Little did Kathleen Morrill, who grew up in Frederick, Maryland, know that dogs like her papillon pup, Todd, would contribute to her future career in genomics. Morrill, a graduate student in the Morningside Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, is completing her dissertation on behavioral genomics of domestic dogs. His work has been featured on the cover of Science and reported New York Times and NPR affiliate KPCC 89.3 FM.
“Dogs are a great model for understanding health,” Morrill said. “They share our homes with us, so share a common environment and are similarly exposed to a variety of things. It is a perfect companion for us to study dogs to understand how health problems arise. We have cancer, we can learn things about aging, behavior problems and anxiety and compulsive behaviors, all of which happen in an animal that we treat lightly, it happens to us every day.”
Morrill is the first author of an article published in Science This suggests that dog breeds are not good predictors of personality and behavioral traits. Morrill and his mentor, senior author Elinor Carlson, PhD, combined genome-wide association mapping techniques with more than 18,000 surveys of pet owners obtained through Darwin’s Ark, a collection of owner-reported dog traits and behaviors. Open source database. Carlson is Associate Professor of Molecular Medicine at UMass Chan and Director of the Vertebrate Genomics Group at the Broad Institute of Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University.
“There are many stories and dogmas about dog breeds and their different behaviors. Our project asked owners directly about their dogs. We had thousands and thousands of participants, so we ended up asking this question. could: ‘Is there a relationship between race and behavior?’ We’ve found that many breed stereotypes aren’t necessarily true and there’s a lot we can learn from mixed breed dogs and their behaviors,” Morrill said.
In June, Morrill received the Dean’s Award for Outstanding Mid-Thesis Research. In support of her presentation on the canine model of OCD at the 2022 World Congress on Psychiatric Genetics, she received the Diane M. Ricio Morningside Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences Travel Award and the International Society of Psychiatric Genetics Early Career Investigator Program Travel Award.
When she’s not busy with the data, Morrill helps freshmen interpret data and code for a statistical boot camp. She holds a bachelor’s degree in organic chemistry from Bates College, where she studied plant genetics. She studied fruit flies during a collegiate-graduate school neurobiology research internship at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Going through different labs during her freshman year at UMass Chan allowed Morrill to find a new enthusiasm for computational biology, she said. After his PhD, Morrill plans to launch new large-scale genomics initiatives specifically focused on human mental health.
The Student Spotlight series introduces students at UMass Chan Medical School Morningside Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, Tan Chingfen Graduate School of Nursing and TH Chan School of MedicineFor more information about UMass Chan Medical School and how to apply, visit prospects page,
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