The research of four Cold Spring Harbor seniors, who used cutting-edge molecular biology techniques to sequence the DNA of mosquitoes, was published in a national database, a first for the school district, officials said. Credit: Newsday/Chris Ware

Two teams of Cold Spring Harbor seniors took two months to meticulously study the genetic makeup of mosquitoes, one in an effort to determine the possible impact of climate change on migration and the other studying eating habits of the insects and their links to diseases. Now their research has been published in a national database, a first for the school district.

Madison Brass, Sophie Cohen, Jenna Schetty and Veronica Walkin — all 17 — researched their topics in Jaak Raudsepp’s molecular and genomic biology class at Cold Spring Harbor Jr./Sr. High School.

Their research included obtaining specimens, photographing and studying their form and structure, and extracting DNA from them. The students used cutting-edge molecular biology techniques to purify, amplify and sequence the DNA, school officials said. 

Their sequence of mosquito DNA was published in the National Institutes of Health National Center for Biotechnology Information database, school officials said. The database is a repository for genetic data for plant, insect, mammal and bird species and is used by scientists as a reference.

“This is the first time we’ve had students that had DNA of such high quality that we were able to have them published in this database,” Raudsepp said. “They worked hard, they did a good job and even if they are not going into STEM fields in college they found value in learning how to do research, the method, the procedure,” Raudsepp added.

Brass and Schetty studied the migration of mosquitoes by barcoding unknown species to identify them and to see if they were originating from places other than the East Coast. If they did, they hypothesized, it was potentially because of climate change. Barcoding is a method of identifying a species using DNA.

"It’s very important to know this information because mosquito species carry disease,” Brass said. “So if they are coming from populations which are immune to these diseases to populations that are not, then it could pose a major threat to the health and well-being on the East Coast.”

Their research found that most of the samples were from the East Coast, with a few outliers from Louisiana or Florida. 

Cohen and Walkin worked with samples of various species of mosquitoes from across Long Island. They studied the correlation between the species of the mosquito and its diet by analyzing the DNA of the mosquito and its stomach contents.

“We weren’t able to get a significant answer to the correlation between the species and the diet, but we still sequenced the DNA,” Walkin said. “So it was successful and it worked.”

The students worked on the physical project at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory for about two months. In June, they presented their research at the Barcode Long Island Symposium at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. That event is held each year and brings students from across Long Island to discuss, critique and question their science projects. 

“We really hope that our research is going to help encourage students and scientists to pursue research on topics that they are interested in and that could also potentially have a massive impact on the world,” Brass said.

Cohen said the experience was really valuable as she plans to pursue a career in environmental science.

“It gave me a practical experience," she said. "It was like what it's like to be in the field doing real research."

Schetty said the class and research opportunity helped her realize that even though she will not be pursuing anything in the STEM field, research impacts many areas.

“These types of projects and research can really widen your scope,” she said.

Student research

Cold Spring Harbor students get scientific research published in the National Institutes of Health National Center for Biotechnology Information database

Madison Brass and Jenna Schetty studied the impact of climate change on mosquito migration. 

Sophie Cohen and Veronica Walkin studied the correlation between the species of some mosquitoes and its diet. 

Research was also presented to the Barcode Long Island Symposium at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in June 2022. 

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