Alchemy | Teen Ink


January 29, 2019
By zliang BRONZE, East Newark, New Jersey
zliang BRONZE, East Newark, New Jersey
4 articles 0 photos 0 comments

I scrolled down the sixth page of the 50,000 Google search results under “genetic defects in crabapple”, twenty tabs already on the top of the browser, praying for the magic clue to appear in the next link I click on.

My search for the next breakthrough in crabapple genetics started in the summer of my freshman year, I was introduced to biology laboratory research in a two-week summer program. Though the experience itself was undeniably enriching, I was filled with a knowing sense of “What now?” when I reached the end of the session. Such a pre-determined end to a scientific exploration was not only abrupt but also unfulfilling. I did not want to close this chapter of my life without making a tangible difference with what I have learned this summer.

Soon after I reached home, I read my notes and recalled my first lab study conducted on the crabapple gene. My mind suddenly conjured up that sunny day when I was scanning for the perfect crabapple leaf in the orchard to bring back to the lab. I remembered the hours and concentration it took to extract a pure crabapple DNA sample, and that indescribable feeling of satisfaction when a series of lengthy computations finally led me to the correct DNA sequence.

I began to think of all the possibilities: “What if there had been even just one flaw in this perfectly coded sequence of DNA? What kind of impact could such an imperfection have?” It seemed extraordinary that all these chains and links of gene segments could come together to result in the genesis of such a pretty fruit. I became intrigued by the notion that a change to something as minuscule and as common as the double helix could fundamentally alter the way this organism lived.

It was then that I decided to dive into the vast sea of information on the Internet to broaden my knowledge of genetics. Somewhere in the 50,000 results, I came across a disease known as Pale Green Lethal, a deadly genetic defect that prevents crabapple from photosynthesizing. Despite its prevalence, there hasn’t been any extensive studies done regarding its origin. The sparse information known about it almost seemed to me like a gap that I naturally felt compelled to fill in. I heard that same questioning voice buzzing in my ears once again – what exactly happened to those mutated genes?

For the next few months, I became immersed in my investigation for the primary cause of Pale Green Lethal. With piles of reference materials stacked on my desk and DNA sequences pinned on the bulletin board, all I could ever think of morning and night was my crabapple project. Eventually, among all the intricate DNA sequences, I discovered what I had been looking for – an absent segment that blocks chlorophyll expression. All of those days and nights that led up to this moment were proven to be worth the cause. I let out a long sigh of relief as the journey comes to a rewarding end.

I did not understand what intellectual curiosity meant to me until this discovery. It turned out that being intellectually curious was not simply asking the “whys” of life but also actually doing something about it. I realized that I – a seventeen-year-old student armed with 50,000 Google search results and a curious mind – have the potential to make an impact, no matter how big or how small, to the physical world I live in. I cannot wait to continue this pursuit — and see others take off where I left off. 

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