What They Learned: Jharna Jahnavi ’19

The biology major’s thesis examined a non-toxic method of controlling the population of the Drosophila suzukii, which pose a threat to the agricultural industry by attacking fruit at a much earlier stage than their standard fruit fly counterparts.

You may not know it, but your fruit is in danger. Luckily for you, however, Jharna Jahnavi ’19 is on the case. The biology major’s thesis, “Investigating Wolbachia Transfection and Cytoplasmic Incompatibility in Invasive Insect Species,” examined a non-toxic method of controlling the population of the Drosophila suzukii.

D. suzukii pose a threat to the agricultural industry by attacking fruit at a much earlier stage than their standard fruit-fly counterparts. Jahnavi’s thesis studies a potential method of combating this through the injection of Wolbachia bacteria into the insects. Ideally, the biological traits of the bacteria would enable widespread infection and a reduced population of flies.

“Beyond the many technical skills, science communication, presentation and critical thinking skills I developed from working on my thesis, I also truly learned how to do independent research,” said Jahnavi, who graduated from her department with high honors. “The process of creating something not simply for a credit or grade, but for my own interest and passion was incredibly self-fulfilling and part of why I want to continue engaging with research in the future.”

Jahnavi’s independence appears to originate from a top-down involvement in the steps of her investigation. From catching flies on campus to carrying out a complicated injection of the insects’ embryos, she was the primary actor.

Jahnavi, who also minored in neuroscience and health studies, wasn’t entirely alone, however, as her thesis was advised by Associate Professor Rachel Hoang. She also received feedback from classmates along the way.

“The biology thesis at Haverford has around four seniors assigned to particular lab,” she said. “I really enjoyed working alongside my peers and learning collaboration skills, as well as taking an interest in their projects’ development and progress throughout the year.”

The balance between independent thinking and collaborative work appears to be at the center of research for Jahnavi. Such a dichotomy reflects her dual-observation that her thesis is both a reflection on her time in the community of the biology department and a promise of what she’ll be able to accomplish individually post-graduation.

“I think overall my biggest takeaway was truly feeling that I had accomplished an incredible amount throughout my undergrad career,” Jahnavi reflected. “The thesis was simply a capstone to all that work, but it really tied it all together to make me feel prepared and ready to not only leave Haverford, but also take on the challenges of independent, creative work involving problem solving, critical thinking, and continued curiosity.”

How did your thesis advisor help you develop your topic, conduct your research, and/or interpret your results?

Rachel Hoang was an incredible advisor. She really helped me develop my research to be based on prior work but truly unique as well, and I think this was critical in helping my sense of ownership and investment in the work. Rachel was instrumental in helping me conduct the research, as well as interpreting my results and helping me brainstorm ways of troubleshooting when things went wrong. Overall though, regardless of the technical support and help, Rachel was an incredible advisor helping me develop my independent research skills, mentoring me, as well as encouraging and reassuring me. I truly feel that I developed a lot as a senior and am now prepared to take on the challenges of working independently in the future, as well as the dedication required to do research work.

What are the implications of your thesis research?

I was very excited to have results for my thesis. Most of my results enable our lab to continue research, and I hope they will help further students develop their own thesis topics and delve deeper. My biggest result was successfully infecting my flies after many many trials of injections! This strain of flies can be used to establish a lab line of flies for further behavioral testing.

What are your plans for the future?

I am working as a research assistant in for a few years before applying to medical school…. I think that while my career goals are in medicine, conducting research in an issue that is more based in environmentalism was really powerful and exciting for me as I was aware that I would not be engaging in this type of research in the future. I enjoyed the opportunity to explore research in a topic that is new and unique to me, and I greatly value that exposure.


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