Undergraduate Research

Andrew Crapitto '22

OUR Featured Researcher: Andrew Crapitto '22

Andrew Crapitto
Photo credit: Tanya Rosen-Jones

Andrew Crapitto (he/him/his) is a Computer Science and Bass Performance major conducting mentored research under Professor Aaron Goldman. His project is titled “Preadaptation as a Driver of Molecular Evolution". 

Please describe your project: 

“Preadaptation describes the evolution of a new trait by co-opting a trait that had originally evolved for a different purpose. While many examples of preadaptation have been observed in plants and animals, there are few clear examples of this phenomenon at the molecular level. My research specifically investigates whether preadaptation plays a role in the emergence of new protein functions. Furthermore, the project has already shown that some functions tend to evolve into a specific other function independently more times than is common. As such, I aim to build a model of the propensity that these functions have to evolve into the other. In doing so, I hope to shed light on an important mechanism of molecular evolution.”

A brief summary (the eleator speech) of your research project:

My research is an investigation into preadaptation of protein functions using computational methods. I’ve already discovered evidence of preadaptation at the molecular level. Now my aim is to build a model of the propensity that certain functions have to evolve into specific other functions more often than is commo

What does the process of doing your research look like?

My research is all done using computational methods, and so I can work on it anytime or place, as long as I have a computer with me! A typical day of work on my project usually involves writing and debugging programs and short scripts -- or sometimes designing algorithms -- to do anything from statistical analyses to parsing a large database for specific data I need. I also meet weekly with Prof. Goldman to discuss how to interpret the results I see, and plan next steps for the project.

What knowledge has your research contributed to your field?

So far my research has already shown evidence of preadaptation at the molecular level, which is an exciting first step. Furthermore, I’ve seen that certain pairs of protein functions appear to evolve from one into the other far more often (independently) than is common. The current goal of my research is to investigate these statistically significant pairs even further, in order to gain an understanding of the propensity that some functions have to evolve into others.

What is your favorite aspect of the research process?

My personal favorite thing about doing this research is the challenge of coming up with creative solutions when faced with problems that don’t necessarily have a deterministic solution. In research there’s not always a single best solution or even a clear next step, and as a computational researcher, I’m always challenged to solve problems in a way that’s both efficient and accurate. And seeing exciting results after grappling with a tough problem is one of the most rewarding experiences I get at school.

How has working with your mentor impacted the development of your research project?

Working with Professor Goldman has been one of the highlights of my time here at Oberlin: I’ve learned so much from him not just about computational biology, but research and academia in general.  He gives me a lot of trust and independence, challenging me to find solutions on my own, which has helped me grow so much as both a researcher and student in general. When I started doing research in my 1st year there were so many simple things I didn’t understand, but with Prof. Goldman’s guidance, I now feel well equipped to tackle a wide variety of problems in the interdisciplinary field of computational biology.

What advice would you give to a younger student wanting to get involved in research in your field?

I think the most important thing is to be curious! When it comes to computational biology, I think it can be easy to be intimidated at first, but if you have a passion for research and a willingness to learn new things, that’s what matters most. All the technical things can be picked up along the way, especially with the support of the incredible faculty here at Oberlin.