Student receives grant for DNA preservation research


Maddy Daum

Alexandra So ’19 has received the Cognito Research Award from the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth for her research in preserving biological specimens.

“I remembered an interesting article about the life of the sea monkeys and how they can survive for a long period of time in adverse environments,” So said. “I thought if these sea monkeys could survive for such a long period of time in rough conditions, that means their DNA must also survive. There must be a way for the sea monkeys to preserve their DNA, so I used this assumption to look for a method to do so.”

So was selected from more than 250 student applicants by a CTY judging panel based on the innovation and creativity of her proposal. Recipients of the grant will submit a final report on their results at the end of the year detailing the progress of their research.

“I was exposed to this opportunity through my involvement with a CTY camp last year,” So said. “I decided to write up a proposal which I believe has practical values and can potentially help a large population in [developing] countries. As an officer in Red Cross, I think that if I am successful with this technique, I can reach out to many poor populations for humanitarian reasons as well.”

The STEM grant is given to middle and high school students and provides them with $599 and a mentor from Johns Hopkins University to guide them in their research.

The grant will allow So to continue experimenting to achieve an inexpensive method of preserving biological specimens for DNA analysis using sucrose.

“I want to make a difference in how DNA and other biomolecules can be stored and analyzed,” So said. “Many new cancer treatments are now based on the biology of cancer and knowing the complete DNA and biomolecular profile of various cancers will make a huge difference in how patients are treated.”

So and other recipients will use the fund to purchase equipment, rent lab space and to complete the experiments and report their results.

“This is only a very early step, I am hoping I can use these opportunities to learn how to do research and to learn the tools needed to successfully carry out a project,” So said. “I believe science and technology are the most powerful means to change and are key components for development.”