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Science/Technology

Rising stars of science

by Jonathan Riggs

Building on their success as members of USC’s first International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) team, Ellen Park and Kevin Le won first place at the Undergraduate Symposium for Scholarly and Creative Work.

The duo’s“E. curi” project tackled the question of creatively short-circuiting antibiotic-resistant superbugs.

“The team accomplished this by tricking the bacteria into accepting a seemingly harmless piece of DNA that will result in its own demise,” said Percy Genyk, a fellow iGEM team member. “This piece of DNA, which we like to call our Trojan Horse, is a synthetic copy of the bacteria’s immune system, known as CRISPR. We reengineered it to specifically target and destroy genes associated with antibiotic resistance.”

By highlighting the strides made by their iGEM team, Park and Le put their own distinctive stamp on their symposium submission.

“I am exceptionally proud of Ellen and Kevin. They worked incredibly hard and their dedication to their project really paid off,” said USC Davis School of Gerontology assistant professor Sean Curran, the team’s faculty mentor. “The undergraduate research symposium highlights the amazing research that takes place at USC in all disciplines. To have their work recognized is truly an honor.”

For Park and Le, taking first place was validation for their research; it also underscored their dedication to their teammates and to science itself.

“Each of us worked so well together and gave our full efforts to the project, and it was only because of that motivation and discipline that we accomplished as much as we did,” Park said. “In light of all this, yes, winning was definitely wonderful, but what matters most is how much pride and respect we have for each other and Sean Curran.”

“The symposium was a great way to let people know about what we had learned, but there were no moments more astounding than those that unfolded during the time we took to complete our research,” Le said. “We spent so many hours learning about CRISPR and the knowledge of seeing something with our own eyes that nobody else in the entire world had ever seen is what made the experience so amazing.”

As befits two rising stars in research science, Park and Le’s victory helped raise the bar  for themselves and colleagues.

“Everyone is so proud of Kevin and Ellen for their extraordinary performance at the symposium,” Genyk said. “We are all excited to see what this year’s talented iGEM team comes up with this summer.”

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