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Teen's DNA project nets Intel award

Updated: 2015-03-26 11:29
By Lia Zhu in San Francisco (China Daily USA)

In an eighth grade science assignment, Andrew Jin did a small experiment to investigate whether bacteria could easily develop resistance to antibacterial agent triclosan. His research found the bacteria taken from sinks were indeed resistant against the agent.

The 18-year-old senior at The Harker School in San Jose, California, said the experiment sparked his interest in science, which paved the way for his winning the first place Medal of Distinction for Global Good at this year's Intel Science Talent Search, a contest some consider the Nobel Prizes for high schoolers.

His winning project developed a way of identifying human genome mutations and discovered more than 100 adaptive mutations in DNA sequences, related to immune response, metabolism, brain development and schizophrenia.

"I've been interested in evolution at a very young age because it's such an elegant and unifying concept that explains so much progress in biology," Jin said. "But we really know very little about this subject, and its real-life mechanism."

He said he was motivated to pursue the project not only to discover something that no one has known before, but also to do something practical that can be applied to improve the human condition.

"Through such research, we can observe how our answers can respond to a lot of these challenges important to our survival, for example, infectious disease and diet change, and through such knowledge we can find ways adapting to the similar challenges we face today," said Jin.

"The main impact of the project contributes more to the knowledge base, and [we can] understand how evolutionary forces shaped our bodies and made us who we are. Some of the results include finding mutations that are related to diseases such as HIV and influenza. These mutations may make us less susceptible to these diseases, and pharmaceutical companies can study the mechanisms of the mutations and try to develop new treatments for vaccines," he said.

With an interest in evolution and artificial intelligence machines, Jin applied for a program for high schoolers called "the research institute MIT" last summer and got a place in this "amazing" lab, where he ended up working with a professor at Harvard,.

He has received expressions of interest from Harvard, MIT, Stanford, University of California-Berkeley, UCLA and UC San Diego. He said he "would probably want to go somewhere there's a strong program both in computer science and biology".

"Scientific research will be an important part of whatever I do. I want to be able to do something innovative that helps improve quality of life, a professor in an academic setting or an entrepreneur who tries to start something innovative and brings that to a point that it could apply to society," he said.

As to the $150,000 prize from the Intel contest, Jin said he would put the money toward college. "Because tuition is very expensive, probably $50,000 or $60,000 a year," he said.

Born into a family of engineers who came from China, Jin said his parents encourage him to pursue his interests and explore his passions.

He also enjoys playing classical piano and is also an outdoors enthusiast.

liazhu@chinadailyusa.com

 

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