A Summer Immersed in Evolutionary Biology: Insights from Dr. Paul Schmidt’s Lab and Orchard Research

Jale-Anthony Diaz, COL ’26, Bronx, NY

This summer, I had the incredible opportunity to dive into the captivating world of evolutionary biology through my work in Dr. Paul Schmidt’s lab. Focused on unraveling the mysteries of Drosophila melanogaster, commonly known as fruit flies, the lab’s mission is to understand the intricate web of evolutionary processes shaping these tiny creatures. My summer experience was multifaceted, spanning data analysis, fieldwork, and advanced lab techniques, all contributing to the broader study of evolutionary biology.

My summer kicked off with an immersive exploration of data analysis. A significant chunk of my time was dedicated to quantitative genetic analysis of complex traits in D. melanogaster populations. This involved deciphering the genetic underpinnings of various traits and their inheritance patterns. Additionally, I honed my skills in image analysis and machine learning, which proved pivotal in the lab’s research. The ability to extract meaningful insights from vast sets of images enabled us to uncover subtle changes in the physiological traits of these flies over time.

In parallel with my lab work, I also had the privilege of spending time at an orchard, meticulously studying the fluctuations in Drosophila populations over weeks. The orchard experience exposed me to the practical aspects of fieldwork and the dynamics of Drosophila populations in a natural environment. I engaged in activities such as collecting weekly samples and examining incidence trends over time. This hands-on exposure was invaluable, as it provided a real-world context for the data we were analyzing in the lab.

One of the most fulfilling aspects of my summer was collaborating with my lab mentor, Skyler Berardi, a dedicated grad student. Together, we completed data collection for the 2022 experiments. This encompassed tasks like capturing census photos, measuring pigmentation differences in female flies, and recording data on any genotypical changes of the flies. These tasks required precision and attention to detail, as they formed the foundation of our subsequent analyses.

In conclusion, my summer experience in Dr. Paul Schmidt’s lab and the orchard was a transformative journey into the realm of evolutionary biology. From utilizing cutting-edge techniques in image analysis and machine learning to delving into the intricacies of quantitative genetic analysis, every facet of my work contributed to advancing our understanding of Drosophila melanogaster. The collaboration with my lab mentor and the hands-on exposure at the orchard added depth to my experience, emphasizing the practical significance of our research. As I reflect on these past few months, I’m filled with a sense of accomplishment and eagerness to continue exploring the ever-evolving landscape of evolutionary biology.

This is part of a series of posts by recipients of the 2023 Career Services Summer Funding Grant. We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they spent their summer. You can read the entire series here.

By Career Services
Career Services