SMSD Biotechnology Students Win Children’s Mercy Decoding Challenge

SMSD Biotechnology Students Win Children’s Mercy Decoding Challenge
Shawnee Mission School District

Students in Shawnee Mission’s Biotechnology Signature Program are winners of the Children’s Mercy Decoding Challenge.

The challenge was issued in early 2021 by the Children’s Mercy Research Institute (CMRI) in Kansas City. Students were invited to decipher DNA sequences displayed on the outside windows of the Institute. These sequences represent gene variants that were discovered in patients at Children’s Mercy.

Using the window displays and four aligning real-world case studies, students were asked to identify the gene variants and the clinical implications of those variants. Senior Chase Davids shared that as a first step the student teams learned how to use NCBI Blast, an online tool for gene sequencing. After identifying the gene variants in Blast, the teams completed in-depth, individual research to answer the corresponding questions. The students worked on the cases over a 3-to-4-week time period.

Students Tochukwu Obi and James Schipfer shared that the case studies kept them engaged in the challenge. The research was data-heavy and having real-world examples to solve made the puzzles more interesting. Davids and Olivia Fritz added they were happy to learn they had won because the work had been frustrating at times. In a virtual town hall and reception for the winners, Dr. Tom Curran, CMRI executive director, shared that overcoming frustration is often part of the process in science. Curran stated, “If you’re a scientist you love data. It can be overwhelming, but on the other hand, it can be so fun.”

Obi shared that one thing he has liked most about the biotechnology class is the opportunity for real-world learning. He can see how the skills and research techniques will apply directly to a career.