June 29th, 2020

GiS Spotlight: Honorable Mentions Audrey, Maya & Karen

Genes in Space awards Honorable Mentions to ten outstanding proposals remarkable in their creativity and scientific rigor. Today, we're celebrating 2020 Honorable Mention recipients Maya Avida (15), Audrey Acken (15), and Karen Guo (16) from The Nueva School in San Mateo, California. Here, the team shares how their research on antibiotic resistance led them down a "rabbit chasm" and into the fascinating world of space microbiology.

What was the focus of your experiment? For our experiment, we looked into mechanisms called (toxin-antitoxin) TA systems that we thought may be behind bacteria behaving differently in space. TA systems have been described as the bacterial self-destruct button, but there's still a lot of controversy over if they're actually in the bacteria to kill it under stressful conditions. They may actually be there to put the bacteria in a slow-growing dormant state so they can put up with a lot of stress, which is what we chose to focus on for our project. 

Why did you choose to participate in Genes in Space? We learned about PCR and genetics in biology class, and we were all interested in learning more about current space research. We found Genes in Space and thought it would be a great opportunity to apply what we learned in biology class into a potential experiment in space. We were all on board and interested, so we just got started!

How did you choose your topic? We were all very interested in bacterial behavior in space, and we found it intriguing that it's still unknown why bacteria are more antibiotic resistant in space. When reading an article about the ISS, we found a sidebar that briefly mentioned TA systems. That led us into a bit of a rabbit hole (more like a rabbit chasm), and that’s what we decided to zero in on for our project. Once we learned more, we were interested by their connections to so many different traits in bacteria, such as virulence, antibiotic tolerance, and biofilm formation.

What did you gain by participating in Genes in Space? We learned a lot about our topic itself, and even more about researching and reading papers. None of us had a lot of experience in reading scientific papers before this project, but by the end we had grown much more comfortable with the process. We also strengthened our experimental design skills, having gone through the procedure section of many different papers and piecing together something for our proposal.

Do you have any advice for future Genes in Space contestants? Talk to your teachers! Talk to anyone else you might know with experience in this field! They might not know about your specific topic, but they’ll almost certainly know about PCR, and microgravity to some extent. Also, and this may seem obvious, do a lot of research and pick something specific. If you pick something really general, it’ll be hard to choose what to focus on in your proposal.