A question & answer session to get to know GG Scholar Isabella Livingston, a 1st year graduate student in the 2021 GG Scholars umbrella Program. She has now joined the Breen Lab & the Genetics Graduate program.

What aspect of genetics and/or genomics most interests you?

I am interested in the intersection of genetics and organismal biology, more specifically how we can use genetics to answer questions about development, behavior, and ecology. I am also passionate about conservation and how we can use genetics to preserve the amazing biodiversity we see. My background is in zoology, so I am driven by my overall love of animals!

What (or Who) influenced you to go into your field of study?

When I was five years old, I watched Jaws with my older brothers. From that moment on, I knew I wanted to study sharks. Over the years, that has expanded to an interest in apex predators, as well as animal behavior and general zoology. During my undergraduate career, I worked in a lab where I was able to combine this passion with genetics, and I have been on this path since!

Who or what do you hope benefits from your research?

I hope everyone and everything can benefit from my research. I know this is a broad statement, but when I think about what drives me, it is my motivation to preserve the natural beauty of this world and ensure that the awe-inducing creatures that inhabit it are around to inspire and amaze generations to come.

How can your research be used to inform decision makers (e.g. policy makers, resource managers, health practitioners, K12 educators, etc etc)?

My research will hopefully provide insight into the behaviors, population structures, and diversity of species. In turn, I hope that this can be used to make assessments about conservation and what we as humans can do to maintain Earth’s beauty and wonder.

What do you think is the most pressing issue or problem in your field of study?

I believe the most pressing problem in my field is lack of information. Reference genomes are needed for a wide array of research tools, and many species do not have one.This makes it difficult to truly understand what is going on beneath the surface. I also think external issues plague this field, such as lack of funding or interest. With this changing climate there is need for information now more than ever on how species and habitats will be affected. Unfortunately, this is something that many outside of this field do not see as a pressing issue, which leads to lack of support in many ways.

How do you expect the GG Scholars program to impact your work?

I expect this program to help me grow into a well-rounded scientist, not just a geneticist. Already, I have learned so much about topics I would view as outside of my scope, as well as practical skills such as inquisitive thinking, collaboration, etc. Having this core group has already been so valuable during my transition into grad school. I have amazing resources at my disposal, including my peers and professors, who can help me grow and learn and conduct research.

How would you describe your research interests to a 3rd grader?

I love animals. Lions, tigers, bears, sharks, dogs, cats, snakes, lizards, and so many more. I love the way they look, the way they behave, the way they grow, and I want to know how and why they do that so I can protect them. To do this, I need to use something so small we can’t see it, DNA. DNA is what makes us all who we are, and every living thing has it! I want to look at this supeeerrr small thing, and figure out how it contributes to what I love about animals.

What’s your dream job?

If I could do anything in the world, I would want to be just like David Attenborough. Nothing makes me happier and more excited than watching animals in their natural habitats, and trying to figure out why they do what they do. If I could spend my life traveling all over the globe and simply viewing these amazing beings, I would be a happy gal.