The Charger Blog

New Graduate on the Frontlines of Cutting-Edge COVID-19 Research

Grace Robinson ’21, ’22 M.S. hopes her work will foster more understanding of the spread of COVID-19 and encourage further research. After completing her bachelor’s degree this winter, she is now continuing her education at the University, pursuing her master’s degree in cellular and molecular biology.

February 2, 2021

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

Grace Robinson and roommate.
Grace Robinson ’21, ’22 M.S. (right) and her roommate on campus.

When Grace Robinson ’21, ’22 M.S. was a kid, she was interested in criminal justice and crime analysis, as well as the natural sciences. As a forensic science major at the University of New Haven, she planned for a career as a forensic biologist – something that, she hoped, would enable her to combine her interests.

As the coronavirus global pandemic spread, Robinson saw an opportunity to apply her skills to conduct meaningful research. She began a project in which she used bioinformatics, an interdisciplinary field that develops methods and software tools for understanding biological data, to study the virus. She endeavored to better understand the rate at which the virus was spreading and whether it was mutating.

Grace Robinson.
Grace Robinson ’21, ’22 M.S.

“Any adaptations in the virus’s genomic sequence that might make it more efficient at transmitting among people could also boost its virulence,” explains Robinson, who accepted her bachelor’s degree, which she completed in only 3.5 years, at the University’s virtual Winter Commencement. “My goal, starting from analyzing entire genome sequences, was to discover and focus on any relevant mutations within the SARS-CoV-2 genome that would ultimately provide a better understanding of the evolving nature of the virus.”

Comparing samples of the virus from various geographical locations, she noted a few mutations in SARS-CoV-2 spike protein that were present in sequences from several locations, such as Australia, India, and Egypt. She studied the preliminary effect these variants had on protein structure and function, and she hopes to further track them to better understand how the virus survives and is spread.

“The genomic sequence of SARS-CoV-2 has changed in various positions since it was first discovered, making this an important area of study,” she said. “An in-depth understanding of viral proteins is key for therapeutic solutions against COVID-19, and I hope that bioinformatics-based research like mine provides a basis for further research.”

Ali Senejani, Ph.D. and Grace Robinson ’21, ’22 M.S.
Ali Senejani, Ph.D. and Grace Robinson ’21, ’22 M.S. have been working remotely amid the coronavirus global pandemic.

The research project was Robinson’s first, and she is grateful for the support and guidance of her mentor, Ali Senejani, Ph.D. She is continuing her studies at the University as a candidate in the University’s graduate program in cellular and molecular biology.

“This project was a very great opportunity for me,” said Robinson, who is continuing her full-time work as a laboratory technician in a COVID-19 testing laboratory. “I was very thankful to have gotten to work alongside Dr. Senejani and the other research students in his laboratory. This project allowed me to challenge myself and pursue my interests in molecular biology, especially with a subject area as contemporary as COVID-19.”