Project A CURE FOR SMALLPOX?

"I'm not sure I'd ever be able to pick one classically insular field and think about it for my entire career," says Kelley. Her interests range too widely, from math and quantum chemistry to physics and philosophy. So her next step will be to "immerse myself in the fledgling, interdisciplinary field of biophysics." It seeks to develop a new, rigorous theory of life "as an emergent consequence of specific physical-interaction patterns."

harris project
Kelley Harris' project involves a special type of RNA and Z-DNA for combatting viruses.
Kelley is off to a running start. She's exploring some interaction patterns that point to a potential lifesaver: a cure for smallpox and perhaps similar pathogens. That potential stems from her research involving the so-called Z-form of DNA (Z-DNA) and the relatively unknown workings of proteins that bind to Z-DNA.

Her cast of characters includes two other main actors: PKRs and E3L. PKRs are the body's chief defense against viruses. The acronym is shorthand for double-stranded RNA-dependent protein kinases. PKRs, which are produced by Z-DNA, target viruses and shut down their self-replicating system, thus blocking the spread of a viral infection. But smallpox and some other less-lethal viruses have anti-PKR weapons, like E3L. This is a protein that binds to Z-DNA and inhibits the production of PKRs.

So, Kelley notes, if researchers can find a way to sabotage E3L, the smallpox threat should be over. That's just one potential of her quest to understand how cellular operations and molecular evolution are governed by DNA--beyond the base-pairing chemistry of James Watson and Francis Crick.


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COMMENTS On The Issues

Where would the extra funds (for R&D) come from? The defense budget and tax raises in the short run, plus programs like space tourism in the long run. The higher taxes would come from mostly the well-off. It wouldn't be fair to impose them on people who had trouble meeting their own basic needs. As space travel gets more commonplace, I think it would make sense for NASA to use for-profit space tourism to help finance its programs.

INTEL SCIENCE SEARCH THIRD Kelley Harris

Kelley Harris


Essay:

Reason and Intuition: Science Needs Both


C.K. McClatchy High School
Sacramento, Calif.


Hobbies: Violin, Scottish Highland dancing, backpacking, sewing


Ambition: Biophysics professor