Science competition inspires future researchers

The U of S recently hosted the Saskatchewan edition of the Sanofi Biogenius Canada competition, a national science research competition that pairs high school students with academic mentors to pursue real-world projects.

“We are excited to be nurturing these talented young scientists and challenging them to carry out research projects with potential real-world impact in the life sciences area,” said Karen Chad, U of S vice-president research.

The winner of the regional competition was Harkirat Bhullar, a Grade 11 student at Evan Hardy Collegiate, whose project looked at applying machine learning to identify novel antibiotic resistance factors.

“The results were really interesting—the developed computational framework identified genomic features that have never been implicated in resistance before,” said Bhullar who was mentored by Tony Kusalik, U of S computer science professor faculty and Jo-Anne Dillon, department head, microbiology and immunology of the College of Medicine at the U of S.

“Honestly, it’s incredible to have such a great group of mentors to help me. I have been working with Professor Kusalik and his students since Grade Nine,” said Bhullar. “I also received help from Professor Dillon. Her expertise in antimicrobial resistance from a biological standpoint was very helpful to work on this problem. I consider myself extremely fortunate to be associated with such a supportive group of individuals who are also great researchers.”

Centennial Collegiate student Catherine Sun won second prize at the regional competition for her project, Identification of fusarium species associated with fusarium head blight of wheat through visual and molecular diagnostics.

Darshana Lanke, a student at Walter Murray Collegiate, won third prize for her project, Comparative study to characterise wheat allergenicity in ancient and modern wheat cultivars.

For winning first prize, Bhullar received $2,000, a portion of which goes to his school. He went on to compete in the national Sanofi Biogenius competition this week in Toronto where he placed fourth.

Besides fostering an interest in research, the Sanofi Biogenius competition is an opportunity for young researchers to connect with each other.

“Meeting fellow young individuals interested in research was quite inspiring,” said Bhullar of his experience at the national competition.

Brett Makulowich is a communications officer with Teaching, Learning and Student Experience.

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