Newton South High School
Newton, MA

Theresa Chen and Serwah Danquah
Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research | Klarman Cell Observatory

Recent efforts to understand the biology of schizophrenia and autism have identified risk genes associated with these diseases. However, it is not understood how these genetic variants increase the risk of developing schizophrenia and autism. To understand the link between a gene and its role, scientists will often get rid of the function of that gene to see the effects of its absence. A common tool used to achieve this is CRISPR interference (CRISPRi), a technique that allows scientists to decrease the abundance of a protein without altering the gene sequence. CRISPRi works by using a special protein called dCas9, which can form a complex with a short RNA sequence that guides the structure to the target gene to be silenced. This summer, Mary and her partner Nourin set out to design and clone guides targeting different risk genes that will later be tested in astrocytes and neuronal progenitor cells. The guides were added to a vector containing a protein barcode, also called ProCode. ProCodes act as a label to help identify cells containing specific guides, which enables the study of multiple genes at the same time. Mary had an extremely productive summer and was able to design and clone about 20 different guides. Through her efforts, she helped spearhead the first steps towards elucidating the role of various risk genes in the development of schizophrenia and autism. Mary’s work will impact a plethora of individuals. When reflecting on the reasons she applied to BSSP, Mary mentions the program “would allow me to explore different areas of science that I am interested in.” It was this scientific exploration that made Mary set her sights onto a different major in her undergrad career. “Since I was in a lab that focused on neuroscience, I am now interested in having neuroscience as a major in college.”