The Westport siblings’ experiment addresses the challenges of space travel

WESTPORT – Space is an alluring and wonderful frontier that few can explore. But for two Westport brothers, a dream for many has become a reality.

Robbie and Simon Myers, both 14 students at Pierrepont School in Westport, recently received the Genes in Space Small Scientist Prize, an annual competition that, according to outreach coordinator Kathleen Polochko, “challenges students to solve the big picture problems that space travelers face.”

The competition is open to students in grades seven through twelve to design DNA-guided experiments for the International Space Station—and one lucky winner has their experiment done by astronauts.

“I’ve always had a strong passion for science,” said Robbie Myers, “something that really took shape when I studied chemistry topics with my science teacher, Benel Dimpiero, several years ago.”

Of the 250 applicants within their age group, only five have won junior scholar awards, including the Myers siblings. Their project—Investigating the Role of Antioxidants in Alleviating Oxidative Stress in Space—was selected for the space station.

The siblings in this year’s biology class studied the parts of a cell and were particularly interested in mitochondria. After school, the duo participated in the Gene Club in Space. There, they learned about the various effects of the environment in space, including microgravity. It has been found that microgravity can lower expression levels of genes, such as those called Cox5A, which are essential for the functioning of mitochondria.

For their subject, they decided to test whether an antioxidant called N-acetyl cysteine ​​could mitigate oxidative stress in the space likely to cause decreased levels of Cox5A expression, leading to mitochondrial dysfunction.

The duo process began with the selection of a topic. Next, they proposed a hypothesis and came up with an experiment to be conducted in space, which addresses the challenges in space travel. Their experiment also needed to include one or more of the tools available in the Genes in Space Toolkit.

“Not only did we learn a lot about how our bodies react to the effects of space, and about the specific genes and cells involved in our project, but we were also able to practice building a sound experimental plan,” said Robbie Myers. “This process requires a lot of research and compiling important details of our experiment.”

It also took a little

“We worked through many steps while designing our experiment, then critically evaluated it, and then rewrote our proposal over and over,” Simon Myers said.

The Myers pair were the only duo in their class to win an award.

“Simon and I are easily able to feed each other’s ideas, and writing our proposal is made much easier with my brother,” said Robbie Myers.

“It’s always great to have multiple minds thinking the same thing,” Simon Myers said, “but I especially love working with my sister because together, we collaborate so well on ideas, think through our thoughts, and solve problems.”

He also thanked Simon and Robbie Dempero, who also leads the Genes in Space Club, for his help with the suggestion, insight, and encouragement.

“Bennell really inspires a love of whatever subjects he teaches, and so I was fortunate to have him in biology this year,” said Robbie Myers.

She said she was surprised when she won the award and was happy to learn that the proposal had been chosen from among the many applicants.

Simon Myers said he was curious about creating the experiment and writing the proposal, so he didn’t consider winning an award and said it was more about the project experience.

“I felt so proud of myself for the work we put into the project and I’m also sure there are many other great projects that deserve it too,” he said.

With the award, the duo also received certificates, medals, and genes in space merchandise. Their school also received the miniPCR kit and the P51 fluorescent biotechnology kit. Some of this same technology is being used on the International Space Station.

Both Robbie and Simon said they plan to continue their studies in biology. Robbie Myers wants to make another proposal to Genes in Space next year. Simon Myers said he will attend a three-week biological research program in Boston this summer.

For more information about genes in space and projects, head over to genesinspace.org.

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