Budding biotechnologist heading to US science competition

March 18, 2013

Year 11 student and budding biotechnologist Cassandra Lee will head to Chicago, Illinois, in April to compete in the 2013 International BioGENEius Challenge.

The St Mary’s Anglican Girls’ School student was recently (March 6) named one of two winners in the WA division of the event.

Cassandra was mentored for six months by leading Murdoch University algae biologist and lecturer at the Algae Research and Development Centre, Dr Navid Moheimani, and assisted in her research by PhD student Indrayani Tajudin. Cassandra’s research determined that mixed species of microalgae could be grown across wide salinity ranges.

“Cassandra’s findings could result in a significant reduction of fertiliser use in algae ponds and potentially change our algae cultivation strategies,” Dr Moheimani said.

“This could be particularly useful in WA as there is a lot of non-arable land and an unlimited source of seawater.

“Microalgae cultures have potential as sources of biofuel, human food (Spirulina and Chlorella), animal feed and high-value products, such as polyunsaturated fatty acids.”

Dr Moheimani said Cassandra was an extraordinary student scientist who showed much enthusiasm for the subject she studied.

“She worked very hard on all aspects of the challenge – in the lab, on data analysis, preparing the final report and on her presentation with her mentors,” he said.

“I have mentored six BioGENEius students over the years and Cassandra’s work was very impressive.”

The BioGENEius Challenge, which is run by the Department of Commerce, takes some of WA’s top high school students from the classroom to the laboratory and gives them the opportunity to work alongside experienced scientists to complete their own biotechnology research project.

Participating students spend up to a year on a biotechnology research project with a world-class biotechnology scientist as a mentor.

Cassandra will now compete against finalists from the United States and Canada.

Two other students were mentored by Murdoch University scientists as part of the challenge.

Dr David Nolan, Clinical Research Fellow at Murdoch’s Centre for Clinical Immunology and Biomedical Statistics, mentored Stephanie Tran, a student from Perth College.

Stephanie studied a genetic variation in a receptor molecule and its relevance to Multiple Sclerosis, closely assisted by scientific supervisor Dr Monika Tschochner, and was named a semi-finalist in the competition.

St Mark’s Anglican Community School student Sarah Heath was mentored by Professor of Environmental Engineering Goen Ho and Research Fellow Dr Lucy Skillman on her project to identify the bacteria involved in membrane fouling and reduced process performance in a desalination plant.

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