Fruit fly report qualifies senior, junior as semifinalists in Siemens competition

By Keane Muraoka-Robertson

Julie Ko ’12, David Lim ’13 and Dorothy Yim, a senior at Walnut High School, wrote a report that was named a semifinalist in the Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology for high school students on Oct. 21. 

The Siemens Foundation provides more than $7 million annually in support of educational initiatives in math, science, technology and engineering.  

According to the Siemens Foundation, 2,436 students registered for the competition and submitted 1,541 projects, setting a new record for participation. 

There were 317 semifinalists.  The competition, open to individuals and teams, is administered by the College Board.
Led by John Olson, an academic coordinator at the Howard Hughes Medical Insititute at UCLA, Ko, Lim and Yim participated in an eight-week research program at UCLA with 10 other high school students.

They also met every Tuesday and Thursday for five hours at UCLA. 

“In the lab, we created crosses of different fly stocks to both knock down expression of specific genes and mark the blood system with green fluorescence to see the effects of the knock down,” Ko said.  “We took late larvae from the stocks and photographed them under fluorescent light and then used our observations and previous research on the genes to identify their functions.”

The program did not require any students to write a report, but Ko had the idea to use the information from their research and turn it into a formal report.

“I was going to write a report, and another student also wanted to write a report, so we were like, ‘Alright, let’s team up,’” Ko said.
The report, titled “The Identification of Genes Involved in Drosophila Melanogaster Hematopoiesis by RNA,” was based on research the team collected from the lab.

“The purpose of our research was to identify genes involved with Drosophila blood development and establish possible connections between them and their respective human homologues,” Ko said.  “We wrote about nine different genes, their functions and how they could be related to the human blood system.”

The research allowed them to link specific genes in flies to blood system disorders in humans, such as several forms of leukemia and other developmental diseases.

Ko, Lim and Yim also met outside of the program to collect additional data for their report and collectively write the 23-page report.

They analyzed their data and wrote the report through the end of the summer until the deadline in October.
“After our work over the summer, I have a much bigger appreciation for little flies as a model organism and simply the large amount of research that can be done on such a small organism,” Lim said.

“We were working on the lab until the end of the program,” Ko said.  “From there we were writing everything else until the beginning of October when we submitted it.  The weekend before it was due, we were pretty much cramming everything.”

“Some people spent their summers outside in the sun in Cabo,” Lim said. “I spent five hours, two days a week putting flies in vials and putting them under the microscope. From what I learned and the potential benefits that can come from my research, it was completely worth it.”