April 20, 2012 (Vancouver) – Innovative research from Vancouver’s Miranda Wang and Jeanny Yao, Grade 12 students at Magee Secondary, may help solve the problem of dealing with household and industrial plastic waste. Their research, which won first prize in the regional Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada competition (announced last night at LifeSciences BC’s annual awards dinner), identified soil bacteria from the Fraser River estuary that can naturally break down phthalates, a fossil fuel-based additive found in some plastics. Phthalates are known to cause cancer, birth defects and endocrine system disruptions in mammals. Miranda and Jeanny’s research may reduce the ecological impact phthalates have on the environment.
As recipients of the top prize, Miranda and Jeanny have won $3,500 and a trip to Ottawa next month to compete in the national competition. Second place, earning a $2,500 prize, went to Lindsay Richter from Coquitlam’s Dr. Charles Best Secondary School. Lindsay’s research looked at in vitro testing of the flavanol (-)-epicatechin as a neuroprotective agent. The $2,000 third place prize went to Zoey Li from Vancouver’s Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School. Zoey studied the effects of calcitriol on the macrophage response to islet amyloid polypeptides.
“If anyone had told me that the course of my life would change because of bacteria, I wouldn’t have believed them,” says Miranda, who will be studying life sciences at McGill University in September as a Greville Smith and Provincial Loran Scholarship recipient. “A big part of our win was the unconditional support from our mentors, led by Dr. Lindsay Eltis at UBC.”
“I’m grateful for our incredible mentors from UBC who have guided and supported us throughout this memorable journey,” says Jeanny, who is debating plans to attend the University of Toronto, the University of Waterloo or McGill University this fall. “It’s an honour to have received this award among so many innovative projects and outstanding researchers.”
“Miranda and Jeanny are exceptionally intelligent, highly motivated individuals who are driven by curiosity,” says Dr. Lindsay Eltis, Professor at UBC’s Departments of Microbiology and Biochemistry, and lead mentor for Miranda and Jeanny’s research project. “It’s young individuals such as these who will help build a better tomorrow.”
“The students in this competition represent some of the brightest young scientists in Canada, and I congratulate them all on their outstanding achievements,” says Elizabeth Robinson, Key Account Manager, Sanofi Canada. “Research competitions are critical for encouraging youth to consider science as a career path, and in fostering new talent in the life sciences sector in Canada.”
“Over the past 19 years, we’ve helped more than 4,000 Canadian youth bring their passion, creativity and scientific ideas to life,” says Rick Levick, Executive Director, Bioscience Education Canada. “The Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada competition is unique because it partners participating students with mentors who have access to quality lab equipment and supplies. With the help of our community and sponsors across this country, we’re creating a vital talent pool in Canada’s growing and important biotechnology sector.”
The Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada competition sees students compete in nine regional competitions throughout April. The regional winners, including Miranda and Jenny, will participate in the national competition at the National Research Council in Ottawa on May 7. The winners will be announced at 1:00 pm EDT on May 8, with the first and second place winners advancing to the International BioGENEius Challenge held in Boston on June 18, in conjunction with the BIO Annual International Convention.
This year, more than 240 high school and CEGEP students across Canada have submitted 192 projects that range from exploring potential new drug treatments for Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and cancer to using mold fungi as an alternative to traditional pesticides.
About the Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada
The Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada is a national biotechnology research competition that encourages high school and CEGEP students to pursue future studies and careers in the exciting field of biotechnology. Coordinated by Bioscience Education Canada since its beginning in 1993, the initiative is sponsored by Sanofi Pasteur Limited, Sanofi Canada, Genome Canada, the National Research Council Canada (NRC), Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and the Government of Canada’s Youth Awareness Program.