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Smithtown student honored for essay

A Smithtown high school student was honored Friday for an essay he wrote on human evolution.

Michael Zhang, a 10th-grader at Smithtown High School East, took third place in an annual contest sponsored by the American Society of Human Genetics, based in Bethesda, Md.

Zhang’s essay discussed the scientific discovery last year of trace amounts of Neanderthal DNA in some modern humans.

The discovery challenged earlier assumptions that Neanderthals had little in common with contemporary humans.

“Michael’s essay indicates that he clearly understands the important concepts of human evolution and genetic ancestry, and furthermore he also grounded his response in evidence based on scientific research,” said Dr. Michael Dougherty, education director for the Society of Human Genetics.

Zhang won a $150 prize. The contest marks the anniversary of the discovery of DNA’s double helix in 1953 as well as the completion of the Human Genome Project in April 2003.

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