Where They’re Headed: Audra Devoto ’17

Where They’re Headed: Audra Devoto ’17

What do analyzing salt marsh bacteria, milking cows, and programming computers have in common? Not much, except that they are all a part of Audra Devoto’s post-Haverford journey. The biology major, who also completed the concentration in scientific computing, is currently assisting with bacterial research while simultaneously working on a cow farm in Vermont before heading west to California in September for a job in the Department of Earth and Planetary Science at the University of California, Berkeley.

While living in the Green Mountain State, Devoto is acquiring and organizing data on bacterial DNA sent from the University of California, Santa Barbara, where her former Swarthmore professor and current project supervisor, Lizzy Wilbanks, is conducting research. She is analyzing the genetic information of samples collected from salt marshes in Massachusetts “to try and determine the interactions between bacteria and viruses in the marsh.”

Devoto will be heading to UC Berkeley in the fall to serve as a metagenomics technician under Jillian Banfield, an illustrious geomicrobiologist. In the Banfield lab, her work will be similar to what she does currently for Wilbanks—analyzing DNA of microbes of multiple environments using computational methods.

Before that move, however, Devoto is also devoting her time to the Three Cow Creamery in the small, rural Vermont town of Corinth. While her farm responsibilities of milking, gardening, and driving the tractor don’t outwardly seem tied to microbiology, Devoto believes that the way cellular life can “affect the world around us” is a theme that remains apparent in farm life.

“When I am planting peas, I know I am helping to grow the nitrogen-fixing bacteria associated with legume roots that play such an important role in plant health,” she says. “Liz [Guenther], the boss of Three Cow Creamery, is just as much a microbiologist as I am when she inoculates her raw milk with cultures that will multiply and imbue each type of cheese with its specific flavor.”

Devoto’s time on the farm is also tied with possible plans for an eventual future in the food production industry or agriculture. But before pursuing those fields, she hopes to apply for Ph.D. programs in microbiology. The subject is an opportunity for her “to see things that are otherwise invisible.” She knows that having the tools to study bacteria, along with the writing skills she obtained while at Haverford, will be versatile and valuable for her future.

“By looking at bacterial DNA found in a salt marsh, or on a cheese rind,” she says, “I can catch a glimpse into the remarkable world of bacterial communities.”

Photo by Bessie Sandberg.

“Where They’re Headed” is a blog series reporting on the post-collegiate plans of recent Haverford graduates.

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