Khiara Berkowitz-Sklar '24

Internship: Max Planck Institute/Silvia Portugal
Location: Berlin, Germany
Program: Summer Social Impact Internship (SSII) Fund
Concentration: Molecular Biology

Why did you choose your internship?

I chose this internship because I’ve had a longstanding interest in vector-borne diseases, primarily as a result of the Dengue epidemic that hit my former hometown (Quepos, Costa Rica) in 2005.

Additionally, as the spread of tropical diseases is very closely related to seasonal patterns, I was intrigued to explore this phenomenon in the context of climate change. As such, Dr. Portugal’s team - which studies how the malaria parasite is able to survive the dry season in the absence of mosquito vectors - seemed like the perfect fit. 

What have you learned?

During my time working with this incredible team, I learned how to grow and maintain parasites in culture, how to conduct amplicon sequencing of polymorphic genes, and how to analyze my data through bioinformatic approaches.

My main project aimed at identifying and tracking malaria parasite clones present in blood samples collected from a longitudinal study of patients in Mali, Africa, in order to facilitate a downstream analysis of the transcriptional patterns established in persistent vs. recently transmitted asymptomatic infections.

How do you think this opportunity will impact your career path and/or future goals?

After having spent over two months in Berlin, I am eager to explore a career in laboratory research abroad. Although I am not yet set on a specific topic of research, I can confidently say that parasitology and tropical diseases as a whole are fields that I’d like to continue to prospect. 

What has been most memorable for you?

Beyond the thrill of the lab itself, I was able to cultivate lasting friendships with my colleagues and roommates. Some of my favorite memories include visiting Berlin’s Mauer Park during the lively Sunday flea market and going for drinks in beautiful Tiergarten with my colleagues.