Syeda Fatima Explains Epigenetics

Leadership Scholar Paper and Presentation

Photo Courtesy: Star Yearbook

Photo Courtesy: Star Yearbook

Sam Koutnik, Opinion Editor

Syeda Fatima, a senior Leadership Scholar, recently presented her final leadership project. Her past projects have been rooted in biology, and her final project was no different. Syeda researched epigenetics this semester, and her mentor was Ms. Eichler, who has a strong background in biology.

Her final project was centered around the driving question, Do traumatic events affect genetic materials?—The study of behavioral epigenetics.”  Syeda chose her driving question after she stumbled upon an epigenetics study and became very interested.

According to University of Washington’s  Center of Ecogenetics and Environmental Health, “epigenetics refers to genetic factors that change an organism’s appearance or biological functions without changing the actual DNA sequence. In other words, gene expression changes but the genes themselves don’t. Epigenetics adds an additional level of complexity to the genetic code.”

Syeda has centered her past and present leadership projects around biology because she wants to major in biomedical engineering, which is all about innovation and making a change in the biological field. Syeda says it is relatively new field that still requires a lot of research. However, she grew very interested in researching epigenetics, a specific branch of biology.

She says,”I read online that offspring of Holocaust survivors saw significant changes in DNA. It interested me, and I wanted to learn more about it. I have always been interested in biology and its real-life applications.”

She says, “By choosing a project focused on something that not a lot of people know about, I am encouraging discovery.”

Syeda’s research  presented her information very professionally.  She was calm and confident while explaining her project. Throughout her presentation, Syeda provided strong information to explain her topic. She first presented the results of an experiment she found in her research.

She says, “In the mouse experiment with cherry blossoms, researchers gave mice an electric shock alongside the cherry blossom scent. Eventually, the researchers stopped delivering a shock with the scent, but the mice still shuddered at the scent of cherry blossom. When the original mice had offspring, the offspring had the same aversion to the scent of cherry blossom even though they had never been given electric shocks. This experiment proves that traumatic events (such as electric shocks) are passed down through genes.”

She explains that she did most of her research online because she could not reach many field experts. She tried to contact ten different researchers about her project, yet only two responded to her and gave her some information. These researchers were from Loyola University and Syracuse University, and Syeda said that they were very hesitant to provide their research to a high school senior. Nevertheless, Syeda continued to research epigenetics, and her project came together in the end.

Syeda’s mentor, Ms. Eichler, said that Syeda has progressed greatly over the course of the leadership program. Ms. Eichler says her first job,as a mentor, was to work with Syeda to develop her driving question.

Ms. Eichler says, “When she came to me with her idea for a project on epigenetics, I didn’t even know what it was at first!  She’s always challenging herself to dig deeper into harder topics and it’s been great to see and work with her on it.”

After determining the driving question, Ms. Eichler helped Syeda brainstorm possible areas of research and sources for her topic. The two met once a week to review Syeda’s progress and to continue moving to the next step.

Ms. Eichler read a first draft of Syeda’s paper and made suggestions, prodding her to where she might need to expand her research. She then read through a final draft to make any last-minute touch ups. A few days before the big presentation, Syeda spent time going over her presentation with Ms. Eichler.

Ms. Eichler says, “Overall, I think I’m really just there to serve as a motivator when it gets tough, and a sounding board to work through problems and see how things sound.”

As shown through this project, Syeda is definitely a leader both within and outside of the Regina Dominican community. She actively participates in class discussions and is she certainly gets her peers excited about innovation and new discoveries.

Syeda says, “A leader can only be a leader if they inspire others to participate and engage.”

Through this project, Syeda definitely showed these leadership skills alongside her academic prowess.