Shirley Yang honored as Siemens Semi-Finalist

Last October, Shirley Yang, senior, was named a Siemens Foundation Semi-Finalist, an award given to high school students for outstanding research in science. Yang conducted her research at Michigan State University as part of the High School Honors Science Program. She worked in a lab for forty hours a week on a special protein connected to a disease of the nervous system and the development of the endoplasmic reticulum.

“We’ve known for a while that the protein is connected to the disease, because it shortens spinal nerves,” Yang said. “Scientists think that it does so through the development of the endoplasmic reticulum.”

Yang’s research was focused on mutating a similar protein in plants called rhd3 with a chemical agent and analyzing the new phenotype produced. If a mutated rhd3 could be found that did not shorten the spinal nerves, Yang and her fellow researchers believed that the disease in the spine might be cured.

“Both the rhd3 and human protein were very similar in their effect on the endoplasmic reticulum. My task was to perform experiments on mutated forms of that rhd3 to see if we could eliminate its adverse effect on the endoplasmic reticulum,” Yang said. “If we could do that with rhd3, we might be able to do the same thing with a human protein.”

Yang’s research at Michigan State University has since been passed on to other researchers, and Yang says she’s proud of the research that she has done.

“While it’s not curing cancer, all the things that I found out were actually new knowledge that others did not know. Scientists can refer back to my data and my conclusions and build on them,” Yang said.