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 won them first prize in the regional Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada competition. Their work identified soil bacteria from the Fraser River estuary that can naturally break down phthalates, a fossil fuel-based additive found in some plastics.
"If anyone had told me that the course of my life would change because of bacteria, I wouldn't have believed them," says Wang, 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."
Phthalates are known to cause cancer, birth defects and endocrine system disruptions in mammals. Wang and Yao's research may reduce the ecological impact phthalates have on the environment. The two young women took home $3,500 and a trip to Ottawa next month to compete in the national competition.
Churchill Secondary's Zoey Li won $2,000 and third prize in the competition for her work on the effects of calcitriol on the macrophage response to islet amyloid polypeptides.
The Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada competition sees students compete in nine regional competitions throughout April. The regional winners move on to participate in the national competition at the National Research Council in Ottawa on May 7. The first and second place national winners advance to the International BioGENEius Challenge held in Boston on June 18, in conjunction with the BIO Annual International Convention.