Stephanie Zhou - 2012 Winning Essay

Stephanie Zhou

As a child, playing with puzzles was my favourite pastime. I would spend days, surrounded by thousands of puzzle pieces, trying to fit them together until the satisfying click of the last puzzle piece revealed the full picture. Thus, it seems natural that today, as a Synthetic Biologist, these cardboard puzzle pieces have been replaced by pieces of DNA and the completed picture has come to life as a new organism, capable of performing exciting functions.

I am currently an undergraduate student in the Bachelor of Life Sciences program at Queen’s University. Last summer, I worked on a research project to genetically modify neural pathways in the nematode worm, Caenorhabditis elegans, to enhance its attraction to soil contaminants and degrade them. As a novel application in bioremediation, this project received a grant from Alberta’s oil sands companies to investigate degradation of harmful crude oil compounds and the results garnered a gold medal at an intercontinental competition for Synthetic Biology. Since then, I was invited to present this project at MIT last November and I am currently working on my second publication.

I am truly optimistic about the future of Synthetic Biology and have academic plans to pursue a graduate education to continue research in this field. My career aspirations are to explore Synthetic Biology’s rapidly growing applications in bioremediation, healthcare, and genetics – but most importantly, my greatest goal is to do what I love, and that is solving puzzles.