European biology essay success for Perse students

Dushan Gunawardena and Rachel George (both Lower Sixth) scrutinised stem cells to seal success in an international biology essay competition.

They came first and second respectively in the European DNA Day Essay Contest, with both investigating the pros and cons of the use of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) – lab-designed cells that can turned into any cell in the body.

Izzy Rumsby (Lower Sixth) also received an honourable mention for her essay on the same subject.

It is the second year in a row that Perse students have taken the top two spots in the competition, organised by the European Society for Human Genetics, following on from the success of Sheen Gahlaut and Sneha Goni (Upper Sixth) in 2022.

As reward for their work, Dushan and Rachel will receive cash prizes, while The Perse will be awarded funds to be used for a biology project.

Both were encouraged to take part by their teachers, Claire Smith and Head of Biology Nicole Copeland, while Rachel was also inspired by her friend Sheen’s triumph last year.

Dushan said: “I find the genetics of biology one of the most interesting areas, as I’m looking at going into biological natural sciences, so it was very enjoyable to do and I was pretty shocked to win.”

Meanwhile, Rachel commented: “I didn’t know much about genetics, but I thought this was a good opportunity to have a focused way of looking at this particular area. I never expected to do so well though, so I’m really pleased.”

They both looked into the applications where they felt iPSCs would be helpful or should not be used after delving into scientific articles on the topic.

Dushan said: “One of my points was that they should be used for the creation of organs, so then they can be use in organ transplants.

“On the other side, I felt their use in editing the human genetic sequence should be avoided because there are a lot of ethical issues involved in that.

“The essays could only be 750 words, so one of the key things I gained from doing it was the ability to get as much information in as possible to get my point across and give my opinion.”

Rachel said: “I want to go into medicine, so I mainly looked at the medical applications of iPSCs, such as disease modelling, drug discovery and organoids. However, I really liked looking into the ethical concerns, such as cloning and editing the genome, and also the use of embryonic stem cells.

“Doing this competition helped my wider knowledge for the future because stem cells are quite an important area in medicine.”

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