• Soumya Kannan
    Credit: Photo courtesy of Soumya Kannan

Kannan Receives Fulbright Fellowship

Soumya Kannan, a senior bioengineering major, has been selected to receive a Fulbright Fellowship to pursue research and graduate study in Denmark.

The Fulbright Program is the U.S. government's premier scholarship program. Set up by Congress in 1946 to foster mutual understanding among nations through educational and cultural exchanges, Fulbright grants enable U.S. students and artists to benefit from unique resources in every corner of the world. Each year, approximately 1,200 Americans study or conduct research in more than 150 nations through the Fulbright Program.

Kannan will be working at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) in the Department of Systems Biology, developing a mathematical model for promoter activity—promoters are a class of genetic elements that initiate transcription of a gene—in Saccaromyces cerevisiae, a species of yeast. Additionally, she will be pursuing master's coursework in bioinformatics and systems biology.

"Recent developments in the fields of systems biology and synthetic biology have greatly expanded our ability to use engineering principles to model, design, program, and control behavior of organisms at a cellular level," says Kannan. "Promoters are critical to this design process, as they drive the level at which a gene is expressed and its expression pattern over time, and thus offer control over intracellular pathways. The ability to have fine-tuned control over genetic elements leads to more effective implementation of circuits and pathways in biological systems."

Kannan has worked in the lab of Mitchell Guttman, assistant professor of biology, since her sophomore year, studying long non-coding RNA, or lncRNA, a class of regulatory molecules, first characterized by Guttman, that are involved in genome regulation and cellular organization.

Kannan, a native of Northern California, has had prior international academic experience—in the winter term of the 2014-15 academic year, she participated in Caltech's Cambridge Scholars study abroad program at the University of Cambridge. During her time at Caltech, she was a four-year member of the women's water polo team, earning the Most Valuable Player award in 2014 and 2015, as well as Academic All-SCIAC (Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference) honors for those two years. Kannan has also participated as an editor and photographer for the Caltech yearbook.

"Soumya Kannan exemplifies how Caltech students can excel in academics, while also having range of activities in leadership and sports," says Lauren Stolper, the director of Fellowships Advising, Study Abroad, and the Career Development Center. "She will be an exemplar for Caltech and the U.S. during her stay in Denmark."

After her Fulbright year, Kannan will be pursuing her PhD in biological engineering at MIT.

"I am grateful for the opportunity provided by the Fulbright Fellowship to live abroad and immerse myself in a culturally new environment," Kannan says. "DTU also has a fantastic Department of Systems Biology, and I am excited to explore the research and academic opportunities at the university."

Written by Lori Dajose