What They Learned: Mandy Levine ’18

The biology major focused on the interactions between parasitic bacteria and their host for her thesis.

For biology major Mandy Levine ‘18, writing her thesis, “Investigating Mechanisms of Wolbachia Localization in Drosophila,”  was an opportunity to extend her scientific curiosity into the realm of microbiology.  

Associate Professor of Biology Rachel Hoang supervised Levine’s thesis, but also provided additional support by helping her find room for her passion for microbiology in the lab.

“Although most of Rachel’s work is focused on evolution and development,” Levine said, “she encouraged me to explore a variety of possible topics that I might be interested in for my thesis. Rachel knew that my primary interest was in microbiology, and she was extremely supportive of my decision to choose a project that would provide me with a different and exciting way of examining bacteria.”

Levine is off to Massachusetts Institute of Technology to pursue her Ph.D. in microbiology, and cites her time at Haverford as invaluable to her future in academia and scientific research.

“The research skills I’ve developed at Haverford will absolutely help me in my graduate studies,” she said. “The sense of independence and confidence I’ve gained from my time at Haverford is something I will take with me to MIT and beyond.”

What are the implications for your thesis research?  

I examined a species of bacteria known as Wolbachia, which live inside the cells of many different species of arthropods, including parasitic nematode worms. These worms can infect humans and cause diseases like elephantiasis and river blindness, but it’s believed that the Wolbachia infecting the worms are the true root of pathogenicity in these conditions. Little is known about how Wolbachia interact with the host cells they infect, but it’s important to understand these interactions in order to understand and prevent the diseases Wolbachia can cause. In my thesis research, I examined the interaction of Wolbachia with the cells of the well-established model system of Drosophila embryos in order to further our knowledge of how Wolbachia utilize the machinery of the host cell to ensure their successful propagation to the next generation. The results I obtained will hopefully contribute to the development of additional treatment options for these diseases in the future.

What is your biggest takeaway from the project?

My biggest takeaway from this project isn’t really related to the project at all, but is more about how to approach research. Rachel was always excited about and eager to discuss the results from any experiment I carried out, but she let me make the decisions about where my research would go. I had done research in many other labs before, but this was the first time I felt like I was running the show. I learned a lot about how to think like a scientist in Rachel’s lab, and I think that’s the most important thing you can get out of thesis research.

“What They Learned” is a blog series exploring the thesis work of recent graduates.

Photo by Holden Blanco ’17