Guide to the DNA Day Essay Contest

Annual DNA Day Essay Contest
The guide to the DNA Day Essay Contest will provide you with a complete guide explaining the contest in detail and how you can stand out in the competition.

What will be covered in the article?

1. What is the DNA Day Essay Contest?

Introduction: The annual DNA Day Essay Contest is hosted by the American Society of Human Genetics in support of National DNA Day. DNA Day commemorates the completion of the Human Genome Project in April 2003 and the discovery of the double helix of DNA in 1953. 

Question: For the 2022 DNA Day Essay Contest, the question is: The “Father of Genetics,” Gregor Mendel, was born 200 years ago in northern Moravia (now Czechia). His experiments with pea plants led to observations and conclusions that became fundamental principles of genetic inheritance. These principles include: 

1) Each organism has two versions (or alleles) of each gene; 

2) One allele is inherited from the mother, and one allele is inherited from the father; 

3) Alleles can be dominant or recessive; 

4) Genes for different traits are inherited independently from each other.

Because of Mendel’s contributions, traits and disorders that are caused by variation in one gene (For Example, Huntington’s disease, Cystic fibrosis) are called Mendelian traits or disorders. There are also complex traits and disorders (For example: diabetes, hypertension) caused by variations in many genes as well as environmental factors.

Question 1: How do Mendel’s discoveries help us understand Mendelian disorders?

Question 2: How does the study of Mendelian disorders help us understand complex diseases?

Prizes: $1,000 + $1,000 genetics materials grant for 1st Place Winner

$600 + $600 genetics materials grant for 2nd Place Winner

$400 + $400 genetics materials grant for 3rd Place Winner

$100 each for Honorable Mentions 10 students

2. What is the eligibility and requirements for the DNA Day Essay Contest?

Students: To participate in the DNA Day Essay Contest, students must be high school students in grades 9 to 12 studying in the US and internationally. Essays must be submitted by a teacher/administrator or parents if homeschooled.

Essays: Must be in English and no more than 750 words. Students should use APA or MLA style for citations. 

3. What are the reviewers/judges looking for when evaluating a student's works?

Criteria

Points

The overall accuracy of the science content

0-6

Use of evidence in support of an argument/answer;

essay well-focused on the question/topic selected

0-6

Writing quality (clear thesis, composition, grammar, syntax, spelling)

0-5

References and citations (quality and appropriateness)

0-3

Total Points

0-20

4. How can I stand out in the DNA Day Essay Competition?

Seek reference from past essays:

Even though past essays were written about a different topic, reading past essays will help you discover the standard structure and the pattern of successful essays. Last year, the topic was discussing how the sampling method for DNA research posed bias in genomic findings and questioned its credibility in studying other populations around the world. The full list of winning essays can be found here

Lea Andrew, a student in Grade 12, who won 1st place in the 2021 DNA Day Essay Contest follows this structure:

Opening: 

Greater morbidity and mortality rates of Covid-19 in minority populations have highlighted continuing health disparities in the US and UK (1,2). Principles and values have been promoted to guide genomic research, recognising as an ethical imperative, that advances should benefit all populations equitably (3-5). Genomics research was initiated by high income countries using samples mainly from individuals of European ancestry. Approximately 16% of the world’s population is accounted for by individuals of European ancestry, but they disproportionately comprise approximately 80% of all genomic study participants (6,7). This imbalance could exacerbate existing health disparities among diverse populations.

The author discusses the current situation of health disparities due to the pandemic, while past genomic research claimed to benefit all populations. Then, the author reemphasizes the question about the imbalance between the European ancestry population and European research participants compared to their percentage of world population. 

Paragraph: 

Large-scale genome-wide association studies (GWAS)[…]identified over 55,000 unique genetic regions associated with approximately 5000 diseases/traits have been identified (10). These studies have also led to fine-mapping of potentially causal variants, with insights into mechanisms of diseases such as type 2 diabetes (11). […]In a study of patients undergoing genetic testing for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), benign genetic variants, previously categorised as pathogenic for HCM in individuals of European ancestry, were found in healthy individuals, all of whom were of African or unspecified ancestry (12). The study also determined that the inclusion of small numbers of African Americans in control groups would have prevented these misdiagnoses[…] Polygenic risk scores (PRSs) were developed based on GWAS data in order to identify individuals at increased risk for a range of diseases (13-15) These approaches are starting to allow the identification of individuals who could benefit from preventative approaches (16). However, in a recent analysis of the usage and performance of studies that generated PRSs, 67% of the studies used samples exclusively from populations of European ancestry (17). […]

Regarding the point stated above, the student presented the background information about gene research in identifying common diseases; however, she discussed examples where misclassifications of variants were found in diverse populations 

In contrast, genetic studies of individuals of African ancestry, as early as 2005, have been shown to be beneficial for many populations (18,19). Novel variants of proprotein convertase subtilisin kexin 9 (PCSK9), found in individuals of African ancestry, were shown to reduce levels of low-density lipoproteins, which are known to increase risk of coronary heart disease (CHD)(18). This allowed the development of drugs to inhibit PCSK9 function (19). The benefits of these drugs are not limited to African populations as they are effective for populations worldwide.

The diverse human populations all have a common African ancestry (9,19). The 1000 genomes project (20), in which whole genomes were sequenced from 2,504 individuals from 26 populations worldwide, confirmed that African populations have the greatest genetic diversity (6,9). Human genomic variation occurred during evolution into population groups separated by ancestry, geography and other environmental factors (9). A recent deep-sequencing study of only 910 individuals of African ancestry found that the resulting pangenome contained approximately 10% more DNA (around 300 million nucleotides) than the current human reference genome (21). Another recent study sequencing 929 genomes from 54 populations worldwide discovered millions of novel variants (22). Thus, the paucity of non-European data used in genomic research greatly restricts the understanding of relationships between disease and genetics and the discovery of novel correlations.

Here the student presented a new argument with examples to show that genetic studies of individuals with African ancestry offer benefit for more population worldwide since human populations all have a common African ancestry. 

Closing:

Overall, recent studies suggest that genetic variants found in one population should not be assumed to be present in others (23). In order for GWAS to be more useful for non-European populations, inclusion of these populations is needed. Similarly, generation of improved PRSs will require the use of data from populations of similar ancestry.[..]. The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted that historically underrepresented populations are typically less trusting of health and research systems and therefore less willing to participate in medical studies (3,4). Therefore, as well as including diverse populations in genomic research, a more diverse workforce is needed to encourage involvement of minority populations (3,4). Further education of professionals and the general public about the phenotypic characteristics of disease in diverse populations will also ultimately lead to improved disease diagnosis, genotype-phenotype correlations and medical interventions.

The conclusion ends with an emphasis on the inclusion of a more diverse population of participants in the studies. 

The example shows the essay structure with three parts: an opening, 3-4 body paragraphs, and a closing paragraph. Within the body paragraph, the students presented two opinions: despite discovering multiple diseases using individuals of European ancestry, there were misdiagnoses, as well as the inclusive use of individuals from other origins in research, like those with African ancestry. With that opinion, he provided examples and evidence from credible scholarly articles to strengthen his argument. Then, the author concluded by emphasizing the importance of the topic. 

Essay Structure: 

  • Opening: You can be either creative or straightforward at the beginning. In this section, you provide context about the topic explaining the issue, then you end with a thesis statement. Focus on providing context for the question rather than presenting your opinions. 
  • Body paragraphs: Depending on how many opinions you have, you can follow this general structure of the introduction sentence, text analysis, and evidence. Make sure not to use the first-person perspective, because this is not a personal essay. 
  • Conclusion: At the end, you should remind your readers about your written topic and the takeaway from the evidence. You don’t have to present everything again in this conclusion, but just the overview. 

Cite the accurate science content and credible source

The DNA Day Essay Contest is about a biology / science topic; therefore, every source and content utilized must be carefully considered and made sure to be of good quality before writing on the paper. Do careful research about the topic. Some credible sources that you can rely on are ProQuest, Nexis Uni, Google Scholar, search engines, Google Books, or your school’s library. In addition to biology and other science textbooks, your school’s library may have access to various academic journals where you can search for information not freely available on the internet; ask your librarian about what is available. Overall, you can use keywords related to your topic to search online for scholarly and peer-reviewed articles, internet resources, or books to set your research context. 

There are millions of results on the Internet, and sometimes you may be lost finding the right articles or the right book for a research context. Articles on the Internet are often unreliable, especially when it comes to magazine or newspaper articles. This is because the writers are not credible researchers or scholars in a specific field and frequently intersperse their own opinions with the facts.  

There are multiple citation styles (MLA, APA, Chicago, etc.) you can choose from; however, for the DNA Day Essay, you will choose either APA or MLA. Carefully citing your sources shows your respect to the original author and your credibility in writing this research paper.

Don’t fall into these common pitfalls 

The DNA Day Essay Contest announced some common pitfalls the judges previously saw across student submissions, let’s take a look and see what they are: 

  • Focusing too much on details rather than providing a clear overview. 
  • Overstating the current or future state of the biotechnology field. 
  • Inaccurate technical language.
  • Lack of in-text citations.
  • Using outdated references.
  • Using too many quotes.

Aralia is an online course platform that connects students and teachers around the world. Our instructors provide students very personalized education while helping them explore areas of personal interest. 

Aralia is currently offering DNA Day Essay Contest preparation. Details about the class can be found here

In addition to academic courses, Aralia offers Academic Enrichment Programs, Research Programs, Competition Preparation, and Art Portfolio Preparation to help students prepare for higher education and refine their skills in academic subjects not available at their school.

Description: In this course, tutors will assist students to complete and submit their thesis from aspects of biology, in combination with research methods, and thesis writing skills. Our tutor has had 4 years of experience in practicing and designing biological research projects for students. He graduated from the College of Notre Dame, and his research direction was cell and molecular biology, evolution, and neuroscience.

Class schedule: One-on-one tutoring, 6-hour course

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