Principal Investigator

Jitendra Thakur

Assistant Professor
Dr. Thakur received her Ph.D. in genetics and cell biology in Kaustuv Sanyal’s laboratory at Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research, Bangalore. She subsequently completed her postdoctoral research in chromatin and genomics in Steven Henikoff‘s laboratory at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research center, Seattle.
Dr. Thakur grew up in the foothills of the Himalayas and went on to pursue centromere research in several eukaryotic model organisms at research institutions across three different continents. When not working, she is mostly following her passion for two distinct forms of Indian classical dancing.


Sierra Barnes

Research Specialist, Lead
Sierra received her B.S in both neuroscience and psychology from Michigan State University. Sierra is interested in exploring how genetic defects lead to diseases, for example, how centromere defects can lead to aneuploidy diseases, such as Down’s syndrome. During her time in the Thakur lab, Sierra hopes to expand her current skills as a researcher and learn new ones. She is looking forward to understanding how fundamental genetics research can be applied to understand the onset of diseases and develop effective therapeutics. As a type 1 diabetic, Sierra likes to volunteer for JDRF (juvenile diabetes research center) to spread awareness of the disease. She also enjoys to read, cook, go for runs, and hang out with friends.

Graduate Students

Olivia Morrison

Genetics and Molecular Biology Graduate Student
Olivia, a graduate student from the Genetics and Molecular Biology (GMB) program of the Graduate Division of Biological and Biomedical Sciences (GDBBS) at Emory, is conducting her Ph.D thesis research on centromere evolution, chromatin and epigenetics in the Thakur lab.
Olivia grew up in Nashville, TN, where she pursued her passions of both dancing and genetics. She received her B.S in biology at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with an honors thesis on developing an auto-bioluminescent lung cell line to evaluate the in vitro effects of e-cigarette compounds on normal cell proliferation. When not working, Olivia likes to read fantasy novels, play Dungeons & Dragons, and eat new foods.

Biology Major Juniors

Jenika Packiaraj

Jenika is interested in genetics and genomics research and plans to pursue a career as a medical scientist. She is interested in understanding how centromeric DNA sequences contribute to centromere identity and function. Toward this, Jenika is studying centromeric satellite evolution using various computational and genomics technologies available in the Thakur lab. Jenika has co-authored a review article on Sequence, Chromatin, and Evolution of Satellite DNA during her first semester in the Thakur lab. Jenika is also the Public Relations Director for Bridging Medicine at Emory and a student leader at Bread Coffeehouse. She volunteers weekly at a medical clinic for underserved populations in her home city, Seattle, WA. In her free time, Jenika likes to read, take and edit photos, and play board games with her family and friends.

Biology Major Sophomores

Kaitlyn Heyt

Kaitlyn (also studying Psychology major) is interested in exploring how non-coding RNA modifies chromatin structure and its subsequent effects on gene expression. She hopes to study how epigenetic processes involving the restructuring of chromatin can lead to differential gene regulation and potentially contribute to disease. She is excited to gain research experience using state-of-the-art computational and genomics technologies the Thakur lab has to offer to prepare her for her future career in the sciences. Kaitlyn is also a volunteer at a health clinic and is involved in the Vegan Emory Group, Relay for Life, and the club field hockey team. In her free time, she enjoys reading, going to parks, and listening to music.

Aditi Vellore

Aditi is interested in exploring how variations in gene expression and cell structures can lead to different functional outcomes and abnormalities. She would like to understand the causation of diseases by understanding centromere defects that lead to miscarriages and genetic birth defects. Aditi hopes to not only dive deeper into the field of cell biology but also familiarize herself with various genetics and genomics technologies for her potential future career. Aditi is also a research curator of Emory's Autism Awareness Organization where she reviews journal articles related to the autism spectrum disorder. Aditi is also Secretary of Emory’s student government association and a committee leader of Emory Helps Guatemala. In her free time, Aditi likes to paint with acrylics, play the piano, and play with her dog at home.

Ritika Choudhary

Ritika is interested in exploring how human centromeres are mapped and recognized within the cell. She’s hoping to gain an insight into the process of centromeric protein recognition utilizing state-of-the-art technology and computational approaches in the Thakur Lab. Ritika hopes to better understand the genetic makeup of centromeric regions and dive deeper into the broader field of genetics and cellular biology to help her future career paths in medical fields. She hopes to be able to understand the complexity behind centromeric defects and abnormal divisions that contribute to miscarriages. Ritika is also a TA within the Biology Department and involved in Emory APCO. In her free time, Ritika likes to cook, go out with her friends, study at a coffee shop, or take her dog to the beach.

Joy Zhou

Joy (also studying Quantitative Sciences minor) is interested in exploring computational and experimental approaches to improve the chromatin profiling techniques, including Cut & Run. Joy is applying her knowledge in statistics to improve genomics data analysis under the supervision of Drs Patil and Thakur. She hopes to understand more of how biology and statistics are connected and uses her knowledge in both fields to apply to real-world problems, which provides her with a new potential career path. Joy is excited to learn new skills, hoping that she could benefit from training in the Thakur Lab. Joy is also a pre-dental student and volunteers at a dental office when she’s free. In her free time, Joy likes to hang out with family and friends, go to the beach, paint, and try out new things in life.


Nachiket Patil

Computational Advisor
Dr. Patil, a recent alum of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, is an expert on computational engineering and scientific computing. After his Ph.D. on laser-based 3D metal printing simulations, Dr. Patil co-founded a 3D printing simulation company called 3DSIM LLC, which became a part of ANSYS, the world’s leading fortune 500 simulation software solution provider.
One of Dr. Patil’s latest interests is making sense of genomics data. For the past few years, he has worked with Dr. Thakur on developing a state-of-the-art computational infrastructure to analyze genomics data. Currently, Dr. Patil is developing a cloud-based automated data analysis pipeline to improve productivity and innovation.
Dr. Patil is serving as a computational advisor to the Thakur lab and a co-mentor to members working on computation- & statistics-oriented projects.