Evan Wu’s Research Published
Senior Evan Wu spent much of his free time the last two years on an unconventional task for a high school student: analyzing genetic data for human and mice tissue and writing about it. His resulting research paper – Conserved Spatiotemporal Expression Landscape of Dominant tRNA Genes in Human and Mouse – has been published in the peer-reviewed journal Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications.
He began the research after his freshman Biology course and sought advice during the two-year project from his teacher, Instructor in Science Laura Landry. She is named alongside Wu on the paper, but she shines the light on Wu.
“Evan is an extraordinary student with intense focus and determination. This is an outstanding achievement for a high school student,” Landry said. “Evan did all the analysis, data crunching, research, and writing. I read through drafts and data and did a small amount of troubleshooting to give him feedback and encouragement along the way.”
Wu used data published on RNA expression from previous research projects to critically analyze the expression patterns in human and mice tissues, Landry said. “He made a new discovery – not previously published – which is that in both species, the total expression of tRNA is the highest in the heart. His findings also confirmed previously published data on other organ expression patterns, which helps to support his analysis methods and statistical approach.”
“It felt kind of like a scavenger hunt,” Wu said. “A lot of my process was reading through papers to make sure I didn’t double-dip on anything. Your data is a sea of numbers, but when you can make sense of it, it’s really rewarding.”
The research was tedious, he said, and sometimes he felt like giving up, especially when he encountered a problem with the data. “You get nervous that all your work will go to waste,” he said. When that happened, he would take a break, returning when he felt motivated again. He said he appreciated Ms. Landry’s encouragement during these times.
He ran into a roadblock when he realized the method overcounted sequences surrounding the tRNA genes, and his data was inflated because of matches that weren’t specific. However, he found a way to filter the data by perfectly matching the sequences from the samples to a reference tRNA sequence, allowing him to find accurate tRNA abundance readings.
During his research he learned that although tRNA expression is similar in humans and mice, alanine-decoding tRNA is higher in mice because of the high duplication of alanine tRNA genes in the mouse genome. Determining the exact relation of these alanine tRNA genes might be a topic for further research, Wu said. He is taking Ms. Landry’s Honors Accelerated Biology II: Molecular Biology class this year and looks forward to learning a process that would help in such research, the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technique for isolating and amplifying a specific sequence of DNA. He expects this process would allow him to generate his own data to verify the alanine tRNA abundance in the mouse genome.