Cold Spring Harbor students' mosquito research published in national database, a first for the district

Cold Spring Harbor students’ mosquito research published in national database, a first for the district

Two teams of Cold Spring Harbor elders took two months to meticulously study the genetic makeup of mosquitoes, one to determine the possible impact of climate change on migration and the other to study insect feeding habits and their links to disease. Now their research has been published in a national database, a first for the school district.

Madison Brass, Sophie Cohen, Jenna Schetty, and Veronica Walkin — all 17 — studied their subjects in Jaak Raudsepp’s Molecular Biology and Genomics course at Cold Spring Harbor Jr./Sr. High school.

Their research included obtaining specimens, photographing and studying their shape and structure, and extracting their DNA. The students used cutting-edge molecular biology techniques to purify, amplify and sequence DNA, school officials said.

Their mosquito DNA sequence was published in the National Institutes of Health National Center for Biotechnology Information database, school officials said. The database is a repository of genetic data on species of plants, insects, mammals and birds and is used by scientists as a reference.

“This is the first time we’ve had students who had DNA of such quality that we were able to post them to this database,” Raudsepp said. “They worked hard, they did a good job, and even though they don’t go into STEM fields in college, they found it useful to learn how to do research, the method, the procedure,” said added Raudsepp.

Brass and Schetty studied mosquito migration by barcoding unknown species to identify them and see if they came from places other than the East Coast. If they did, they theorized, it was potentially because of climate change. Barcoding is a method of identifying a species using DNA.

“Knowing this information is very important because mosquito species carry disease,” Brass said. “So if they come from populations that are immune to these diseases to populations that aren’t, that could pose a major threat to health and well-being.” -being on the east coast.

Their research revealed that most of the samples came from the East Coast, with a few outliers from Louisiana or Florida.

Cohen and Walkin worked with samples of various Long Island mosquito species. They studied the correlation between the species of the mosquito and its diet by analyzing the mosquito’s DNA and its stomach contents.

“We weren’t able to get a meaningful answer to the correlation between species and diet, but we sequenced the DNA anyway,” Walkin said. “So it succeeded and it worked.”

The students worked on the physics project at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory for about two months. In June, they presented their research at the Barcode Long Island Symposium at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. This event takes place annually and brings together Long Island students to discuss, critique, and challenge their science projects.

“We really hope that our research will help encourage students and scientists to pursue research on topics that interest them and that could also have a massive impact on the world,” Brass said.

Cohen said the experience was really valuable as she plans to pursue a career in environmental science.

“It gave me hands-on experience,” she said. “It was like what it’s like to be in the field doing real research.”

Schetty said the class and the research opportunity helped her realize that while she won’t be pursuing anything in STEM, research impacts many fields.

“These types of projects and research can really broaden your reach,” she said.

Student research

Cold Spring Harbor students have their scientific research published in the National Institutes of Health National Center for Biotechnology Information database

Madison Brass and Jenna Schetty studied the impact of climate change on mosquito migration.

Sophie Cohen and Veronica Walkin studied the correlation between the species of certain mosquitoes and their diet.

The research was also presented at the Barcode Long Island Symposium at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in June 2022.

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