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Headline: Human Factors

Photo of PhD student Melanie Quiver

Melanie Quiver, a Ph.D. student in Georgia Tech's School of Biology, studies human population genetics and evolutionary genomics to assess the genetic risk of alcoholism.
Photo: Rob Felt

Melanie Quiver, a Ph.D. student in Georgia Tech’s School of Biology, is a member of the Lachance Lab, which studies human population genetics and evolutionary genomics. Quiver’s research focuses on the genetic risk of alcoholism in modern populations.

Where are you from?

I’m from a small town called Kayenta, on the Navajo reservation in northern Arizona. I am of the Tangle People clan, born for the San Felipe Pueblo Fox clan. My maternal grandfather was of the Deer Springs People clan and my paternal grandfather was of the Bitter Water People clan.

What brought you to Georgia Tech?

I attended Northern Arizona University for my undergrad, where I also worked at the Center for Microbial Genetics and Genomics. I graduated with a B.S. in biology in 2014. Graduate school was never part of the plan, but my mentor, Jeff Foster, encouraged me to apply to the FOCUS program. The three-day event at Georgia Tech is designed to raise awareness of graduate education among underrepresented students. I attended the program in January 2014 and that experience is why I’m here today. The amount of information and support I received was so overwhelming that it didn’t take me long to become confident in my ability to be a successful Ph.D. student here.

What is the focus of your research?

Broadly, I’m interested in whole-genome sequences and their application in understanding how human population movement has shaped disease risk in terms of genetics. My current goal is to explore the effects of rapid reductions in human population sizes throughout history (genetic bottlenecks) and how this might have shaped genetic differences in the risk of alcoholism. For example, our most recent paper inferred historic population sizes using X-chromosome and autosomal data from 11 global populations. Findings from this work include evidence of a male-biased migration out of Africa, which could help lead to important insight in the selective constraint of X-linked diseases. This research topic is near and dear to my heart, as I’m from a population that has experienced both genetic bottlenecks and a severe public health burden involving alcohol addiction.

It seems as though your interest and passion in biology is interwoven into your background.

It’s primarily because of where I grew up. The Navajo reservation is prevalent with addiction in various forms, such as alcohol, drugs, and gambling. This has affected the mindset of our youth. We have the lowest (college) enrollment numbers in history, and I think that introduces an opportunity for improvement. It’s my hope that I contribute to that improvement and inspire indigenous youth to go after their passion as well. Graduate school can be challenging, but that doubt disappears the second I remember who I’m doing it for: my community. 

— Laura Diamond

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