People's Choice Award Winner Aims to Improve the Experience of Using Probiotics

May 23, 2019

Danny CollinsDanny Collins, a junior at Newton South High School in Newton, Massachusetts, has won the 2019 People’s Choice Award in Sigma Xi's Student Research Showcase. His presentation from the Microbiology and Molecular Biology category, "Harnessing Tardigrade Proteins to Enhance the Robustness of Living Medicines" won by public vote based on the merit of his presentation's video, which is geared for a general audience. The award consists of a certificate and a $250 cash prize. 

In his video, Collins shares how he was prescribed probiotics when he was sick and the medicine had to be taken in a liquid, refrigerated form to keep the beneficial bacteria alive. 

Danny Collins “These probiotics smelled and tasted horrible and I had to take them every day,” he said, “and I was always wondering if there was any chance I could still get the clinical benefits from bacteria without actually having to take the terrible concoction of these probiotics.”

Probiotics can be freeze-dried to eliminate the need for refrigeration, however the process can stress bacteria, reducing optimal viability. 

Collins was watching Animal Planet when he learned about tardigrades, microorganisms known as water bears that have superhero-like abilities such as high tolerances to desiccation and radiation. He wondered if the tardigrade’s abilities could be applied to helping more bacteria survive during freeze-drying. 

“We tested the hypothesis that the expression of tardigrade-specific disordered proteins within a bacterial probiotic model could be used to enhance the viability of the probiotic during freeze-drying,” he wrote in his abstract. 

Survival for their tardigrade protein-enhanced probiotic model improved following freeze-drying compared to non-enhanced versions.

The Student Research Showcase is a science communication competition for high school, undergraduate, and graduate students. In April and May, qualified Sigma Xi members evaluated presentation websites from participants and selected winners in the high school, undergraduate, and graduate divisions as well as winners of each research area's section. See the 2019 results

Division winners receive $500 from Sigma Xi, and for the first time the three division winners were eligible for an additional $500 as the overall top presenter. All participants receive feedback from judges and a certificate of participation. Additionally, high school participants are invited to submit research papers to Sigma Xi's journal for pre-collegiate research, Chronicle of The New Researcher

More About Sigma Xi: Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Honor Society is the world’s largest multidisciplinary honor society for scientists and engineers. Its mission is to enhance the health of the research enterprise, foster integrity in science and engineering, and promote the public understanding of science for the purpose of improving the human condition. Sigma Xi chapters can be found at colleges and universities, government laboratories, and industry research centers around the world. More than 200 Nobel Prize winners have been members. The Society is based in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. On Twitter: @SigmaXiSociety