Esther Brielle’s PhD in bioengineering in The School of Computer Science and Engineering at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem involved experimental measurements of hydrogen bonds in viral membrane proteins within a membrane bilayer. Dr. Brielle employed a novel approach that allowed her to measure such bonds with great precision.
Stimulated by her innate curiosity and her fondness for interdisciplinary collaborative science, Dr. Brielle took on several other projects during graduate school, including one with colleagues from the biochemistry, computer science, and engineering departments at the Hebrew University. They used molecular dynamics simulations to investigate the interaction of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein with its human ACE2 receptor. Dr. Brielle compared the simulated structure and receptor interactions for different coronaviruses, allowing the team to explore the versatility of cell receptor binding strategies.
Her current research, in the Department of Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard Medical School, is with a group that develops tools for statistical and computational genetics, and applies them to the study of ancient human DNA to elucidate prehistoric events and identify biologically functional genes. Dr. Brielle is reconstructing the spatial and temporal population-wide structure of ancient humans by investigating their ancestry composition and degree of familial relatedness, research that is made possible by the recent expansion of the database of ancient DNA samples.
Future directions for Dr. Brielle in the field of ancient human population genetics could include identifying interspecies co-evolution (such as between pathogens and humans during pandemics, or between animals and humans during domestication), determining which plant and animal species died out and which thrived as a result of human population growth, and studying the impact of evolutionary pressures and infectious diseases on humans.