Dr. Sara Sawyer was born in Olathe, Kansas, and earned a bachelor's degree in Chemical Engineering at the University of Kansas. As an undergraduate, she did research on fuel cell technology being developed for use in battery-powered cars. After college, Dr. Sawyer worked as a drilling engineer in the oil industry, a job that took her to off-shore drilling rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. She then attended graduate school at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. There, she earned a Ph.D. in Genetics for studying cell cycle regulation of DNA replication in yeast.  During her post-doctoral training, Dr. Sawyer worked on the molecular evolution of HIV restriction factors. She trained under Drs. Harmit Malik and Michael Emerman in Seattle, Washington. She then served as an Assistant Professor at UT Austin before moving to CU Boulder.

Physicists have a joke about a spherical cow: "When you first want to write a mathematical model to describe a cow, assume it is a perfect sphere." These equations won't describe the cow perfectly, but they will probably get it about 70% right. After that, it is a matter of diminishing returns to make the model more and more accurate. The wonderful thing about molecular evolution at this moment is that the explosion of genomics has created so many research opportunities that did not exist before. We are at the point of modeling a "spherical cow" when it comes to understanding how genomes and genes evolve. So, the research in the Sawyer lab focuses on the footprints that evolution has left on genes and genomes in order to figure out how evolution works, and to understand the health implications of pathogen-driven evolution.

I want to share a few words about my philosophy for anyone who may be considering joining my lab. I care about helping people develop the skills that they need in order to build a successful career. But, on a more existential level, I hope to show you that there is no finer way to live your life than engaged in a meaningful intellectual pursuit. I demand dedication and hard work, but in return you will gain my fierce loyalty to you and your career.

And finally, although there will be obstacles, I believe that graduate school should be fun (at least most of the time). According to the Buddhists, "Happiness is the road, not the destination."

If you would like to be a member of a team engaged in exciting and challenging research, please speak with me about possible graduate or postdoctoral research projects.


Sara Sawyer, Ph.D.

Associate Professor

D216 JSCBB (office)

BioFrontiers Institute

Department of MCDB


B.S.          Chemical Engineering

                 University of Kansas


Ph.D.        Genetics and Development

                 Cornell University


Postdoc    Fred Hutchinson Cancer

                 Research Center


Office: D216 JSCBB


office: 303-735-0531

Contact Info

Message to Potential Trainees

Graduate Programs

Favorite Quotes

“In the end, science is about hope; it’s about expanding our horizons, and endeavoring to understand more. It is an instinct so deeply human, and an instinct we need now more than ever. An enterprise this core to our national future must enlist all who can help from the world of journalism and science. The public and the policymakers need to hear this message. Science creates self-evident truths that everyone can own. I believe the world is ready to listen if we can only find a better way to speak.”

-- Dan Rather, November 14, 2016, Scientific American

“ It's been approximately 3.5 billion years since primeval life first originated on this planet. That is not an unimaginable number in itself, if you're thinking of simple, discrete units like dollars or grains of sand. But 3.5 billion years of biological history is different. All those years have really passed, moment by moment, one by one. They encompass an actual, already lived reality, encompassing all the lives of all the organisms that have come and gone in that time. That expanse of time defines the realm of biological possibility in which life in its extraordinary diversity has evolved. It is time that has allowed the making of us. “

-- By Verlyn Klinkenborg, August 23, 2005, New York Times

“Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”

― Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species