An interview with our newest assistant professor Shyamalika Gopalan, Ph.D.

May 9, 2024

Dr. Gopalan was a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Southern California in the Center for Genetic Epidemiology and at Duke University in the Department of Evolutionary Anthropology. She joined the Department of Genetics and Biochemistry and the Center for Human Genetics at Clemson University as an assistant professor in late 2023.

What interested you in coming to Clemson University? I was drawn to Clemson University by the caliber of human genetics research being conducted here, particularly in uncovering the drivers of complex traits. It was also keen to be among colleagues that share a common goal of increasing the research profile of the university.

How did you get interested in your (degree, career, research)? I became interested in using genetics to understand human origins early on in my undergraduate program. I was fascinated by all the research coming out at the time that was discovering how human populations have been connected to each other throughout time. I chose to pursue a career in academia because I wanted to study how human history has shaped present-day patterns of genetic and phenotypic diversity. During my Ph.D., I also developed a strong interest in studying DNA methylation to better understand the impact of the environment on human traits.

What’s a short overview of what you do and hope to accomplish? Research in my lab focuses on unravelling the effects of past and present-day environmental pressures on the human genome and epigenome. The goal of our work is to gain a more complete picture of how natural selection and molecular biological processes interact to shape human phenotypes.

What have you discovered in your research? A lot of my research focuses on human populations that tend to be under-represented in genetics research. As a result, I have been able to find that the effects of aging on DNA is not the same across different populations, potentially due to differences in genetics, environmental exposures, or both. I have also found that the genetic diversity that exists among populations is a powerful tool that can increase our power to detect relationships between genes and traits.

What do you hope to teach our students? Humans are a diverse species in so many ways, but we are also a very young species. Because of our relatively recent common ancestry, we are all very similar to one another from a genetic perspective. Research in our field often focuses on human difference, for good reason, but I think it is important for us to convey this bigger picture to our students and to the public.

What do you like to do in your free time? I like to spend my free time outdoors tending my backyard garden, biking around town, or going for a hike. I also enjoy cooking, indoor rock climbing, and hanging out with my cat.


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