11 Nov 2022

Friday 11 November 2022

How is the subject of Biology, books and writing, geckos and fungi all interwoven?


For Helen Cai, Year 13, and a biology student, amazing things have been achieved as an expression of Helen’s love for and knowledge gained from studying Biology. She has undertaken the Cambridge AS and A Level Biology curriculum since Year 11 in 2020 and extracurricular studies in the subject. Over the past two years, Helen has focused her efforts on developing her interest in Biomedical research and scientific writing. Building on her studies of proteins, enzymes, DNA, genes, mutations, and cancer, as studied in the AS Biology syllabus, Helen picked up the opportunity to become involved in an industrial research project. She worked together with a group of like-minded students to develop and investigate an enzyme inhibitor that would battle against the devastating Rice Blast fungus, which wipes out a significant proportion of rice crops in the agricultural industry. Helen wrote a scientific paper describing the action of the enzyme inhibitor targeting the MoCdc14 phosphatase enzyme in Rice Blast in 2021. 

Helen also decided to enter the New York Times STEM Writing competition with her essay called “When Life Gives You Lemon Frost: How Geckos Help Us Understand Skin Cancer”. This specific breed of geckos only exists due to artificial selective breeding utilizing random genetic mutations. The concepts of gene mutations and artificial breeding is studied in the A2 Biology syllabus. Helen learned that understanding a particular gene mutation in the Lemon Frost Gecko could potentially provide oncology doctors with a diagnostic tool for early melanoma cancer detection. 

Helen also learned about the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing tool this year in A2 Biology. She realised that small changes to the DNA created by this gene editing tool could alter the pangenome of a large population. This topic of gene technology as studied in the A2 Biology syllabus allows students to consider the bioethical and socio-economic concerns regarding the commercialisation of being allowed to edit genes. Helen was excited about these considerations and, combining this knowledge together with her love of writing, she wrote a short science fiction novel titled “Harper”. Her novel explores ‘sexism in the biotechnology industry and the implications of human genetic engineering’. 


“ "Perfection. Innovation. Excellence."

In 2215, human genetic engineering permeates everyday life. The city of Claremont's high society takes turns playing God, spending vast sums of money to Enhance their children with selected physical and intellectual traits. Meanwhile, industrial workers suffer from genetic diseases from radiation exposure and chemical fumes.

Harper Jin is the Enhanced daughter of a genetic technology mogul. She fights a losing battle against disillusionment, loneliness, and manipulative parents. It doesn't help that she keeps too many secrets for her rebellious best friend. When Harper's life becomes intertwined with a strange boy from school, she finds herself caught between two sides of a bioethical war. Walking the delicate balance between defiance and duty, truth, and deception, she must uncover a secret buried for 300 years to change her future.” 

Helen’s novel has just been published as an e-Book on Amazon.com, also available on Amazon Kindle, which is an amazing accomplishment for a Biology student who is only currently completing her final Cambridge International examinations.  We will watch this space as Helen continues her tertiary studies next year overseas in the Biomedical sciences in 2023. 

By Mrs. Udi Delport, Biology Department

Click here to view Helen's book!