July 6th, 2020

GiS Spotlight: Honorable Mentions Kayla, Karilyn, Yee Lam & Nuzhat

Genes in Space awards Honorable Mentions to ten outstanding proposals remarkable for their creativity and scientific rigor. Today, we're celebrating 2020 Honorable Mention recipients Kayla Leung (16), Karilyn Duran (17), Yee Lam Lei (17), and Nuzhat Mukul (17) from the High School for Math, Science, and Engineering @ CCNY in New York City. Here, the team shares a peek into the making of their award-winning proposal.

What was the focus of your experiment? We proposed to test whether CRISPR could be used to prevent latent viral reactivation on the ISS. Viral reactivation is when a dormant virus reactivates, causing disease. This can happen under stress. In space, astronauts face many stressors, making viral reactivation more likely. We thought this was an important topic to research because this is a widespread problem that can ultimately affect people on Earth as well.

Why did you choose to participate in Genes in Space? We had recently covered genetic engineering in class and we thought Genes in Space was a perfect opportunity to learn more about its potential applications in space.

How did you choose your topic? Prior to entering the competition, we were very interested in biology.  We brainstormed and filtered out numerous topics, and eventually chose to study latent viral reactivation. During our research, we came across the concept of excising the genetic factors required for viral genome maintenance using a powerful gene-editing tool: the CRISPR/ Cas9 system. Researchers have shown how the CRISPR/Cas9 system can be used against herpesvirus infections, which gave us the idea of trying CRISPR/Cas9 in a latently infected sample on the ISS. 

What did you gain by participating in Genes in Space? We got to learn about the many issues astronauts face in space. When we finally chose our topic, we got to explore the current research on viral reactivation and use our prior knowledge of CRISPR to find a solution. Research allows us to gain a more thorough understanding and in general, do what we are passionate about.

Do you have any advice for future Genes in Space contestants? Our advice would be to pick a topic you are passionate about and to not give up. It might seem difficult at first in choosing a topic, but figure out what you’re interested in and your project will soon start to come together.