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Science Research Institute Student Named GENIUS Olympiad Finalist

by Albright College

Science Research Institute Student Named GENIUS Olympiad Finalist

Findings show gene resistance to methicillin and sulfonamide in Pennsylvania water supply.

Abby Robinson, a Science Research Institute participant and a sophomore at Conrad Weiser High School, was named a United States finalist in the GENIUS Olympiad for her research work on antibiotic resistant genes in the Schuylkill River watershed.

For her project, “The Occurrence of Antibiotic Resistant Genes in the Schuylkill Watershed,” Robinson tested water samples in a quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR). After multiple trials, she found that 80% of her samples had resistant genes to methicillin, and 20% of the samples had resistant genes to sulfonamide.

“Resistance to methicillin was not all that surprising because of the built up resistance to methicillin (MRSA) that has been accelerating for many years,” said Robinson. “However, resistance to sulfonamide was very surprising, and also rather concerning, because sulfonamide is widely used in the medical field to treat a number of bacterial infections.”

The GENIUS Olympiad is an international high school competition normally held in-person in New York. This year, students submitted 2,481 projects from 85 countries, with 65% of total submissions coming from outside of the United States. The award ceremony will be streamed June 12, at 10:30 a.m. EST, on GENIUS Olympiad’s YouTube channel.

A member of the Science Research Institute‘s Schuylkill Watershed Research Team, Robinson toured the Hamburg reservoir and wastewater treatment plant in early March, searching for new ideas to improve water quality for homes and the environment. The team’s 14 students are from Berks Catholic, Conrad Weiser, Gov. Mifflin, Hamburg, Reading and Wyomissing high schools, and are led by SRI and Albright College instructors working in collaboration with Albright’s Center for Excellence in Local Government, the Berks County Conservation District, the Berks County Water and Sewer Association and Berks Nature.

With the findings from this experiment, Robinson is now delving into why these resistant genes are present in Pennsylvania’s water sources.

“I hope to test the Schuylkill watershed for a variety of more antibiotic resistant genes in the near future; I specifically want to test for resistance to amoxicillin and ciprofloxacin because of their widespread use in the medical field,” said Robinson.

Through the Science Research Institute (SRI), 5-12 grade students learn to function in a high-level scientific research setting while preparing for college and graduate-level research. The elite program nurtures students as they create self-directed research projects in biomedical, genetic, environmental, agricultural, biotechnology and materials sciences. Students can also explore dance, art, music, the humanities, culinary arts and fashion through Albright SRI projects. Nine high school SRI students have completed patent applications before graduation.

“Brain science and neurology tell us that brains are most creative sometime between fifth and 10th grade,” said Albright College SRI Director, Adelle L. Schade. “SRI focuses on supporting creativity during that critical time, in the name of innovation. Successfully supporting creativity at this age can mean society-changing results.”

Founded in 1856, Albright College is a diverse community of learners cultivating integrity, curiosity, connection and resilience. The college’s flexible curriculum encourages students to combine and cross majors to create individualized academic programs. Close faculty mentorship and numerous experiential learning options create opportunities for Albright graduates to exceed their own expectations. Located in Reading, Pa., Albright enrolls more than 1,800 full-time undergraduates and 700 adult learners and graduate students.