Ashburn, VA (August 17, 2015) – When summer break arrives, most students head to the pool or beach. Twenty-three students at Rock Ridge High School decided to head to the lab instead.
The students joined the school’s iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machines) Team and have spent their summer working to solve a problem plaguing our community; Lyme disease. The students are collaborating with another team at the University of Virginia and will enter their work in an international competition to be held September 24-28 at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston.
Rock Ridge biology teacher and team coach Mario Saavedra says doctorates have been awarded for scientific work of the caliber the students have been completing this summer. In a nutshell, the students are attempting to create a bacteria mimic that would be passed down to subsequent generations of ticks. The mimic would establish itself in the gut of the ticks to prevent the binding of Lyme disease and, therefore, the ticks’ ability to transmit the disease to humans. For now, the students are experimenting with fruit flies, since they are faster and safer to use. They will experiment with ticks at a later time.
Saavedra says the students have been in the lab every day from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. since the first day of summer vacation. He says that the students have kept journals of their work to note the protocols they have used so that others may benefit from their learning and experimentation. The journals are kept in a sharing application so that all team members may access them when needed.
Saavedra says the activity is an example of the district’s One to the World (OttW) initiative because the students are addressing a real-world problem through authentic research that involves collaboration and communication with team members. The public display of their work will come at the international competition next month in Boston. That event expects to draw 4,600 participants on 280 teams from around the world. Saavedra hopes his students will return from the competition with a medal for their efforts.
Rock Ridge junior and lab manager Vignesh Valaboju says the project was compelling to students because many of them have had friends or family members diagnosed with Lyme disease. As part of the project, students are creating an app that will contain background information on Lyme disease, the latest treatments for the disease and real-time surveillance for infections where citizens can contribute data.
Getting the program up and running was no easy feat. Saavedra noted that he has started a new program in a new school and that expenses have been high for equipment and materials. He says that it is faster and easier to purchase things like solutions and gels but that the Rock Ridge students have had to make their own to save money. He says it was often a good learning experience because the students had to apply skills learned in chemistry or AP biology classes.
The team has a fundraising section that continues to schedule both local fundraising activities like car washes and to seek corporate donations of equipment to support their project. Follow the progress of the Rock Ridge iGEM team at https://twitter.com/Rock_Ridge_IGEM.