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Two Local Chicago Area High School Students Win Top Prizes in ASHG's National DNA Day Essay Contest

Third-place prize winner Girish Chandrasekar, a sophomore at Naperville Central High School, and his teacher, Nicholas DiGiovanni.

Third-place prize winner Girish Chandrasekar, a sophomore at Naperville Central High School, and his teacher, Nicholas DiGiovanni.

TWO LOCAL CHICAGO AREA HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS WIN TOP PRIZES IN NATIONAL DNA DAY ESSAY CONTEST
Deerfield and Naperville High School Students Win First and Third Place in the American Society of Human Genetics’ Annual Genetics Essay Competition

BETHESDA, MD – April 20, 2012 – In celebration of National DNA Day, the American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) hosted its 7th Annual National DNA Day Essay Contest to educate students and teachers about important concepts in genetic science. ASHG is announcing this year’s prize winners on Friday, April 20, at 12:00 noon EST during a live online DNA Day Chatroom sponsored by the National Human Genome Research Institute of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

This year, ASHG awarded first-place honors to a local 11th grade student attending Chicagoland Jewish High School in Deerfield, Ill., and the third-place prize winner was another local student, a 10th grader from Naperville Central High School in Naperville, Ill.

ASHG’s National DNA Day Essay Contest (http://www.ashg.org/education/dnaday_winners_2012.shtml) challenges high school science students in grades 9-12 to examine, question, and reflect on important concepts in human genetics by writing an original essay that provides a substantive, well-reasoned argument. This year’s question dealt with gene regulation and its role in human disease. Nearly 6,000 essays were written for this year’s contest, and ASHG received entries from 43 U.S. states, as well as from Canada, Italy, China, Turkey, Greece, India, Bangladesh, and Lithuania. More than 300 geneticists from the ASHG membership volunteered to judge the students’ essays on the basis of scientific accuracy, creativity, and writing quality.

Local high school student Nathan Swetlitz, a junior at Chicagoland Jewish High School in Deerfield, Ill., won first place in ASHG’s 7th Annual National DNA Day Essay Contest, and will be awarded a $1,000 monetary prize in recognition of his accomplishment. This is the second year in a row that Swetlitz has placed among the top three in ASHG’s DNA Day Essay Contest (he won second place in 2011). In addition, Swetlitz’s science teacher, Mr. Robert Taylor, will receive a $1,000 grant from ASHG to purchase new genetics laboratory equipment for the biology classrooms at Chicagoland Jewish High School.

Another local high school student in the Chicago area won third place in ASHG’s 7th Annual National DNA Day Essay Contest. Girish Chandrasekar, a sophomore at Naperville Central High School in Naperville, Ill., will be awarded a $400 monetary prize as the third-place winner. In addition, Chandrasekar’s science teacher, Mr. Nicholas DiGiovanni, will receive a $400 grant from ASHG to purchase new genetics laboratory equipment for the biology classrooms at Naperville Central High School.

This year’s essay question challenged students to demonstrate their understanding of gene regulation, a topic selected by ASHG because it is a key concept in genetics that is often absent from high school science courses. Gene regulation is the process by which genes influence development, health, and disease in organisms as they are turned on or off in precise ways and at specific times. There are many different ‘switching’ mechanisms and cell processes that regulate the genes. Each student chose one of several known gene regulation processes and explained why that process is critically important to early development, normal cell function, or as the cause of a disease or cell malfunction.

“The ASHG judges were very impressed with the outstanding essays written by Swetlitz and Chandrasekar, both of whom clearly demonstrated a solid understanding of complex genetics concepts and a thorough knowledge of gene regulation and disease,” said ASHG’s Education Director, Dr. Michael Dougherty. “The fact that two of the top three winners in this international competition hale from the same local area is a testament to the high quality of biology teaching and learning in the Chicago area. Mr. Swetlitz’s placing as a top winner two years in a row is a remarkable achievement – a first for our contest.”

“This educational initiative brings students and their teachers together with some of the best geneticists in the world,” said Dr. Joann Boughman, Executive Vice President of ASHG. “Our organization knows that it is important for us to raise awareness about the value of genetics education and research, and the DNA Day Essay Contest is one of the many public outreach initiatives established by the Society to support this goal.”

For more information about the National DNA Day Essay Contest and ASHG’s other genetics education programs and resources, visit: http://www.ashg.org/education.

ABOUT THE AMERICAN SOCIETY OF HUMAN GENETICS

Founded in 1948, the American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) is the primary professional membership organization for human genetics specialists worldwide. The nearly 8,000 members of ASHG include researchers, academicians, clinicians, laboratory practice professionals, genetic counselors, nurses and others involved in or with a special interest in human genetics. The Society’s mission is to serve research scientists, health professionals and the public by providing forums to: (1) share research results through the Society’s Annual Meeting and in The American Journal of Human Genetics (AJHG); (2) advance genetic research by advocating for research support; (3) educate current and future genetics professionals, health care providers, advocates, policymakers, educators, students and the public about all aspects of human genetics; and (4) promote genetic services and support responsible social and scientific policies. For more information about ASHG, visit: http://www.ashg.org.

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Media Contact:
Kristen Long
301-634-7346
klong@ashg.org

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