ShareThis Page
Murrysville

Franklin Regional grad, 15, studying genetics, preparing for Carnegie Mellon University

Patrick Varine
| Thursday, June 14, 2018, 11:16 a.m.
Above, a microscope view of three varieties of roundworm that Elena Swecker, 15, of Murrysville, studied as part of her internship at the Magee Women's Research Institute.
Submitted photos
Above, a microscope view of three varieties of roundworm that Elena Swecker, 15, of Murrysville, studied as part of her internship at the Magee Women's Research Institute.
Elena Swecker, 15, of Murrysville.
Submitted photo
Elena Swecker, 15, of Murrysville.

Elena Swecker spent part of last school year interning at the Magee-Women's Research Institute in Pittsburgh, studying genetic mutations in roundworms. In the fall, she heads to Carnegie Mellon University to pursue a degree in computational biology.

She's 15.

“The goal is to use the research to help map out the processes of chromosomal mis-segregation,” said Swecker, of Murrysville. “Even though we're not very similar to worms, the genes and the way they interact are very similar.”

Chromosome segregation happens during meiotic cell division as part of the DNA replication process, and mis-segregation is a primary cause of birth defects and infertility in humans, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information.

Working with three varieties of roundworm, Swecker introduced mutations, then used markers to identify which worms had the mutations and how each mutation distinguished the worms from one another. Her work is part of Magee investigator Judith Yanowitz's research into maternal age and fertility .

Franklin Regional Middle School science teacher Jennifer Joyce brought Swecker to her seventh-grade class to present her research to students, who were learning about natural selection.

“We viewed (the worms) under our microscopes,” said Chloe Zucco, 13, of Murrysville.

Zucco and classmate Mary Ciaramitaro, 13, of Murrysville, were fascinated by Swecker's presentation.

“Most of the girls and even boys were grossed out by the worms, but Chloe and I were really interested in the ideas and the research,” Ciaramitaro said.

Joyce said she has kept in touch with Swecker since having her as a student.

“I thought this was a great opportunity for our students to see a real-world application of the things we're studying,” Joyce said.

Swecker's presentation ties back in with the district's ongoing mission of integrating STEAM — science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics — concepts at all levels of education.

“It's important for our kids to get exposure at a young age to all the opportunities available and the places science can lead you,” Joyce said. “It's important to me as well to have young females who can show younger female students this type of thing. Having a role model in your peer group is really critical.”

Swecker agreed.

“I feel like I've gotten so much from these opportunities, whether it's biology, genetics or some other field,” she said. “I wanted to show the research, and also how to sort of balance a (school) schedule and an internship like this.”

Understanding chromosome mis-segregation could help scientists understand more about the way birth defects happen, a fact that was not lost on Zucco.

“It gets me more interested and makes me want to learn new thing,” she said. “Even if I don't follow through with a career in this, it's good to have learned it, and it might cause someone else to be interested and do their own research.”

Joyce said that was her goal in bringing Swecker to the class.

“Their experiment started a conversation among the class, and really good seeds can be planted through that,” Joyce said.

Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-2862, pvarine@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MurrysvilleStar.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me