Mrunali Manjrekar (Bioengineering/EECS, ’23) has been awarded a $7,500 Goldwater Scholarship, a program established in honor of Senator Barry Goldwater to foster and encourage outstanding students to pursue research careers in the fields of the natural sciences, engineering, and mathematics. She is one of 417 recipients from across the U.S. who were nominated by their universities and then selected by the Goldwater Foundation this year.
Mrunali, a Bay Area native, became interested in genetics in middle school, intrigued by the idea that the logic and simplicity of sequences could hold the answer to everything. In high school, she read about researchers at Stanford who had used computational tools to discover risk factors in the human genome linked to breast cancer. This was her first exposure to the use of mathematics to elucidate the mysteries of the genome, which has been the focus of her studies ever since.
The junior is now deeply immersed in the exciting research being conducted at the intersection of applied engineering biology and computer science working, in order words, at both the benchtop and the desktop. The possibilities in this emerging field are endless and revolutionary. The applications are as diverse as parsing data with algorithms, using DNA to store electronic information, and creating synthetic enzymes like rennet in a lab rather than a calf’s stomach (resulting in humanely sourced cheese!).
Mrunali, who plans to pursue a PhD in Computational Biology, credits UC Berkeley’s amazing “landscape of opportunity” for providing the resources and opportunities to pursue her interests. She has, for example, worked in the Nielsen lab, seeking genetic markers to explain how a particular kind of frog is able to live at high altitudes in the Andes and respond to climate change and fungal diseases. She is also an active member of Berkeley’s iGEM Team, a “by students, for students” synthetic biology lab space where undergraduates can design, implement, and lead experimental projects. Mrunali also built up a lot of scholarly independence doing her own research studying viral-host protein interactions in Debbie Marks’ lab at Harvard.
Mrunali’s advice to future applicants? “Be proactive! Don’t be shy about reminding professors about deadlines for recommendation letters, seek support from your research mentors, and don’t be discouraged by whatever obstacles arise.”
For information about applying to this program, please visit https://live-scholarships-4.pantheon.berkeley.edu/goldwater/.