SciX@UNSW Science Extension Program

SciX@UNSW Science Extension Program connects NSW Year 12 high school students studying Science Extension with UNSW researchers to work on research projects. SciX@UNSW allow students to follow their own line of enquiry whilst accessing the resources and expertise of our scientists.

The SciX@UNSW program for 2019/2020 was highly competitive, especially the selection of projects in the Biology category. The School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences (BABS) offered a few research projects for the 2019/2020 cohort, including ‘Investigating the Effects of Radiation on DNA’ and ‘Exploring the Human Genome to Understand Brain Diseases’.

‘Investigating the Effects of Radiation on DNA’ lead by Associate Professor Louise Lutze-Mann examined exposure to cosmic radiation which is one of the risks associated with space flight. Humans who travel beyond the earth’s magnetosphere are not shielded from this radiation which can induce genetic changes (mutations) in all exposed cells. These genetic changes can lead to cancer. In this project, students examined DNA that taken from organisms exposed to radiation to determine the number and type of mutations that have been induced. This provided information about the likelihood of cosmic radiation inducing cancer in astronauts.

Exploring the Human Genome to Understand Brain Diseases’ was lead by Senior Lecturer Michael Janitz and supervised by Ashton Curry-Hyde and Lachlan Gray. in this research project students experienced an in-depth exploration of Bioinformatics. Bioinformatics is the use of computer programs to answer biological questions. With the recent explosion in freely available RNA sequencing data, researchers must learn how to interpret this information to understand the role of genetics in health and disease.

Over the course of a week (20-24 January 2020), the students attended computer-based bioinformatics sessions using online resources such as Galaxy (usegalaxy.org) and 2-days of wet lab activities where students isolated RNA from a cell line and assessed extracted RNA using gel electrophoresis. With tools such as HISAT2 and StringTie software, students explored changes in gene expression in neurodegenerative disease such as Alzheimer's Disease, Parkinson's Disease and Multiple System Atrophy.

The SciX@UNSW is an important program as it provides students with access to UNSW Science’s world-leading researchers and facilities. The program enables students to be introduced and upskilled in research techniques and perform hands-on experiments that give them a taste of the breadth and depth of research at UNSW.