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Three Ph.D. Students Receive 2019 NSF Fellowships

June 27, 2019

UC Merced doctoral student Melissa Spence and incoming graduate students Caleb Larnerd and Cristian Sarabia were awarded Graduate Research fellowships (GRFP) from the National Science Foundation.

The fellowship provides multiyear support to predoctoral students in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Spence, from Angels Camp, is beginning her second year in the Applied Mathematics Graduate Group. She joined Professor Suzanne Sindi’s lab in 2018 to continue her research in genetics on structural variation.

Structural variants are sections of DNA that may have been deleted or inverted and have been linked to many genetic disorders.

“Next-generation sequencing techniques offer the opportunity to sequence an individual's genome quickly and cheaply, but at the cost of generating noisy, error-prone data,” Spence said. “We want to take that data and de-noise it to get a clear picture of what’s happening in an individual's genome.”

Melissa Spence
Applied Mathematics Ph.D. student Melissa Spence

As we approach the era of personalized medicine, Spence hopes her research will be of increasing relevance to biomedical diagnostic techniques.

“Patients often have to go through expensive genetic testing to diagnose specific diseases,” she said. “Now doctors can utilize these cheaper methods and have more confidence that what they are actually seeing in the data is true for their patient.”

The summer before she began her graduate program, Spence participated in the Graduate Division’s Competitive Edge Summer Bridge program, which helped her apply for fellowships including the GRFP.

Larnerd is an incoming doctoral student in the Quantitative & Systems Biology Graduate Group. He earned a bachelor's degree in biology at Le Moyne College in New York. He plans to conduct research in neurobiology and will rotate through several labs before selecting an advisor.

Sarabia is joining the Chemistry and Chemical Biology Graduate Group this fall. He earned a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from Fresno State and a master’s in organic chemistry from California State University, Los Angeles, where he participated in the Louis Stokes Alliance Minority Participate Bridge to Doctorate (LSAMP-BD) Program.

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