Risa Takenaka


Risa is a PhD student in the Molecular and Cellular Biology program.

Risa grew up in Hiroshima, Japan, and Irvine, California. She moved up the coast to the Bay Area to attend UC Berkeley, where she earned her BA in Anthropology, Classics, and Integrative Biology in 2015. Her undergraduate research experiences included working with collections in the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology to study mammalian dental variation in Dr. Leslea Hlusko’s lab, conducting fieldwork in Argentina to study the paleoecology of tuco-tucos in Dr. Eileen Lacey’s lab, and translating Renaissance Neo-Latin manuscripts for Dr. Donald Mastronarde.

Following graduation, Risa worked in Dr. Ralph Marcucio’s lab at UCSF for two years studying the effects of fibroblast growth factor and sonic hedgehog genes on craniofacial development. She moved back to southern California to work in Dr. Karen Sears’s lab at UCLA to study bat and opossum evo devo in both the lab and at field sites across the Caribbean. Risa’s longstanding interest in evolution and genetics brought her to the Malik Lab for her PhD. For her dissertation work in the Malik Lab, Risa is investigating the evolution and molecular functions of Abo, a histone repressor gene in Drosophila.

Outside the lab, Risa is often found frequenting art museums, classical music concerts, and drag and burlesque shows. She is also an avid reader and writer and Netflix connoisseur, and occasional cross-stitcher. Aside from her current gig of moonlighting as a personal assistant/familiar to her feline boss, Sophie, her dream non-scientific job is to work in the SNL writers’ room.