Jessica Yamada ’14 Is Intel Talent Search Semifinalist

-by Joanna Chen- Jessica Yamada ’14 has recently been recognized as a semifinalist for the prestigious, pre- college Intel Science Talent Search. This competition requires all participants to submit essays, recommendations and most importantly, a 20 page report explaining one’s research. This year alone, around 2,000 high school students applied, all of whom have conducted advanced and original research projects. Applying in and of itself is a tremendous feat and although the journey was ardorous, being nationally recognized for her work is an exceptional honor. Yamada’s lab experience, however, is not limited to the intel competition process. Yamada remarked, “I’ve liked science ever since I was a kid, and when I heard that Winsor had a Summer Science Internship Program, I signed up as soon as I could!” She has participated in science programs since she was young, and has held onto an interest for biology.

Wanting to expand her interests, Yamada applied for the Simons Summer Research Program, a seven week-long science internship program. After she was accepted into the program, Yamada worked several hours a day in the lab of Dr. Miguel Garcia-Diaz, the Associate Professor of Pharmacological Sciences at Stony Brook University. With help from a graduate student working in the lab, Yamada started her experiment, which involved a protein called MTERF1. The protein is responsible for the termination of mitochondrial DNA transcription. As Yamada explained, many age-related diseases, such Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and mitochondrial disorders, have been linked to defects in the process of mitochondrial DNA transcription. Yamada elaborated on her explanation, stating “Several allelic variants (essentially mutations) of MTERF1 have been found and are thought to be involved somehow in these diseases, but the effects of these mutations on MTERF1 structure and function are currently unknown.” In short, Yamada’s project deals with finding a particular mutation of MTERF1 so that it’s structure could be solved to see how it’s function was altered. Yamada titled her final project, “For want of an arginine, the termination was lost: Characterizing the structure and function of the R169Q MTERF1 variant.”

After working extensively on her independent project, Yamada admitted to having difficulties at times. “Contrary to popular belief, you don’t often have ‘Eureka!’ moments when you’re working on an experiment. But the overall experience was a truly rewarding one, and I’m very glad I had this opportunity!” Despite the bumps she encountered, all her hard work paid off, as Yamada was chosen as one of the 300 semifinalists. This accomplishment is no easy feat, and we congratulate Jessica on her achievement!