VIDEO: LHS Students Talk Sex, Bugs and Pest Control
More than 300 students entered more than 250 projects in the Lexington High Science Fair on Feb. 14. Three of them told Patch how their study of gender-bending bacteria could be built upon to battle the spread of infectious disease by insects.
Only at a high school science fair could insects, sex and disease control come together so seamlessly.
In their project, “The Gender Swap: The Effect of Wolbachia on Armadillidium,” Lexington High School juniors Daniel Finch, Felix Cancre and Jeffrey Lang examined how populations of the common pill bug are affected by wolbachia, a bacteria that can turn males into females.
The purpose was to see how the presence of the bacteria in different populations would affect the sexual distribution. And the group’s two-part hypothestis was that populations with wolbachia would be heavily female and that, within infected insects, the majority would be females, having undergone the transformation.
“We were able to do this through a series of DNA analysis and extraction procedures,” Cancre explained Tuesday Feb., 14, when the fair was open to judging and the public. “That began with straight extraction, then purification, then replication and finally separation, mainly through many high tech procedures that were luckily available to us here at the school.”
The group had a total of 60 samples, taken from Lexington and Chelmsford, with about 60 percent female pillbugs and 40 percent male. In the Lexington population, they found there was significant walbachia infestation in males was significant.
“We found that 10 males out of 13 walbachia-infected pillbugs actually had the walbachia inside of them, which was very surprising for us considering the feminization aspect of walbachia,” Lang noted.
According to the group, a future purpose for this kind of research could grow into biological control of insect species, which could eventually lead to ways to combat disease.
“Walbachia affects 66 percent of all arthropod species and that’s a ton of bugs and that’s a ton of everything,” said Finch. “If you could use wolbachia to control the population of certain species, you could control malaria in mosquitoes or nemetoads that cause river blindness in Africa.”
Evidence Suggests Fair Success
The quantity and quality of the 250 projects presented this year were both top notch, according to Science Department Head Whitney Hagins, who said the department and community support was outstanding, as well.
“The best ever,” Hagins said. “I’m always amazed by the high caliber of the projects, because every year it gets better.”
In addition to the chance to go on to states and other competitions, participation in the annual science fair gives students a chance to earn AP course credit, do high-level work and present it to judges who may be experts in the field. Seeing some of the impressive work done by their peers is another highlight of the fair, students said.
“Being part of such a complex academic system and such a competitive system, it’s great to be able to see all of your peers document the work they’ve been doing over the past five months,” said Cancre. “To be surrounded by 250 other kids who have the same issues and have made similar successes, it’s great as like a team-bonding. It sound like it’s corny, but it’s great for the school to cement the program as a whole.”
From the Lexington High Science Fair, 35 kids will go on to states. Those students will be notified by mail sometime during the February vacation week, Hagins said.