Dundee school pupil published in peer-reviewed academic journal28 March 2013
Emily Jamieson with Dr Doug Lester from Abertay University
A school pupil from Dundee has had a research paper published in the leading peer-reviewed American eye journal “Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science”.
Emily Jamieson, who attended Grove Academy, carried out a research project at the University of Abertay Dundee as part of her Scottish Baccalaureate in Science.
Sixth Year students are required to complete an Interdisciplinary Project (IP) as part of the Science Baccalaureate, and Abertay University has been working in a unique partnership with Dundee City Council, Dundee Science Centre and the local schools to deliver this element of the qualification.
Emily’s project involved reanalysing data from a recently published journal article about the likely causes of an extreme form of hereditary short-sightedness, known as “high-myopia”.
The article suggested that two particular mutations in a gene in the eye were the cause of the condition.
However, Emily’s analysis revealed that this was not entirely accurate. Although her analysis confirmed that one of the mutations identified was indeed the likely cause, it also demonstrated that one of the other mutations played no role whatsoever.
Emily's work means that this particular mutation can be eliminated from further research into the causes of high-myopia, and was the reason she was named first-author on the paper – a rare achievement for someone still at school.
Mrs Pam Maclean, Emily’s teacher at Grove Academy, explains how the Science Baccalaureate works:
“The aim of the Science Baccalaureate’s Interdisciplinary Project is to give students a taste of life at a University, to equip them with new skills, and to give them a feel for the responsibilities that studying for a degree entails.
“Each pupil is allocated a university tutor, based on their interests and any previous experience they have, and that tutor facilitates and supports their project.
"In Emily’s case, she worked with Dr Doug Lester from Abertay’s Division of Food and Life Sciences because at her interview we found that she had previously done a week of work experience at an opticians and was interested in doing a project related to the eye.
“Dr Lester is renowned for his research in this area, so assigning Emily to him was a natural choice.
“Throughout her Secondary Education, Emily’s enthusiasm for all areas of science was apparent and we are extremely proud of her fantastic achievement and to hear of her continued success at university.”
Dr Doug Lester, who supervised Emily’s research at Abertay, said:
“The project I suggested to Emily for her Baccalaureate was a complex one, but she was really interested in the idea – despite not even having done Higher Biology – and quickly mastered the complicated computer tools she needed to use in order to carry out her analysis.
“As soon as I saw her results, I knew they were publishable, and we worked together on how it would be best to present her findings in a research paper.
“The fact that the work of a school pupil has been published in a leading academic eye journal is a wonderful achievement – usually it isn’t until you are at least a post-graduate student working towards your PhD that you would expect to have anything ready for peer review.
“The work of all academics is based around the creation of unique knowledge, and publishing our research through refereed journals is the standard way of presenting it. Having our research reviewed by our peers is like a verification process of the quality and value of what we’ve done, and career development for most scientific academics is determined by, among other things, the number of papers you publish.
“So if Emily wanted to pursue a career in scientific research, she would be in an excellent position to do so – the fact that she’s already, at such a young age, had a paper published in such a prestigious journal means she is leaps and bounds ahead of many of her peers.”
Emily Jamieson, lead author of the paper, said:
“I wasn't too sure what to expect when Doug and I agreed on the project - I'd only done some basic genetics at school but he assured me that he'd be there to help me with any difficulties I might have.
“It was a steep learning curve to be able to interpret the results and know what it all meant in the larger context, but it definitely gave me better preparation for university.
“Doug was great to work with - he was a very engaging mentor and was always very interested to hear how I was getting on with the analysis and other parts of the project. He also made plenty of time to see me when I needed a bit more guidance, particularly in the early days, which I was really grateful for.
“Just now, I'm studying at Glasgow University - I've chosen to do a biology-based degree, but I won't fully specialise until third year so I've got a bit of time to make up my mind. I'm currently considering either specialising in Neuroscience or Genetics, but either way this project was great experience as I'm hoping to go into research after I graduate.”
Dundee City Council Depute Education Convenor Councillor Gregor Murray said:
“I am delighted that Emily has been able to return to Grove Academy in a visit that will help to inspire current pupils.
“We are all very proud of her achievements.
“The Scottish Baccalaureate offers young people a great opportunity to benefit from excellent partnership arrangements that have been forged between the city council and the University of Abertay Dundee.”
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Notes to Editors:
- Emily’s article, entitled “The Novel Human p.I587V Variant in the ZNF644 Gene Is Unlikely to Be the Pathogenic Cause of Dominantly Inherited High Myopia in a Chinese Patient”, is published in the American eye journal “Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science”.
- Some background to the research paper:
Around the time Dr Lester first met Emily, he had come across a paper in the journal PLOS Genetics suggesting that particular rare mutations in a developmental eye gene (called ZNF644) can cause an extreme form of hereditary myopia – known as "high myopia" – in Chinese patients.
He was keen to investigate further to see whether this really was the case, so asked Emily if she would be interested in carrying out a biological computing (bioinformatics) project on two of the reported mutations in the paper.
Emily was required to master some complex computer tools in order to align the reported ZNF644 mutations with the protein sequences of other animals.
Surprisingly Emily found that one of the mutations – called p.I587V – reported in the paper had the same amino acid change as found in normal macaques and gibbons.
This meant that if the p.I587V mutation was the cause of high myopia in the Chinese patient, it would be likely that all normal macaques and gibbons would also be highly short-sighted.
As these animals clearly possess supreme hand and eye coordination to be able to swing through the trees, this casts doubt on the p.I587V mutation being the underlying cause of high myopia in the patient.
In the paper, Emily and Doug therefore concluded that it is more likely that another mutation, either in the same or a different gene, is the likely underlying cause of high myopia in the patient.
They also recommend that in future, all ophthalmological geneticists should carry out similar analysis to help confirm or refute whether a particular amino acid change is the actual underlying cause of the patient’s hereditary disease.
- Baccalaureatte students are matched up with the supervisor for their Interdisciplinary Project (IP) during an induction event which Abertay hosts each year. Staff give presentations to the school pupils about their respective research areas, and the students then identify a subject area and member of staff they might like to work with.
Dr Alan Bruce, Advisor of Studies, then matches up supervisors and students, and they meet to discuss the finer details of what their project will involve.
- The Dundee Partnership (between the Dundee City Council Education Department, the local schools, Abertay University and Dundee Science Centre) has now been running for four years and approximately 40 projects have been completed or are in progress.
- The model for delivery within the Dundee Partnership is unique in Scotland and has been highly complimented by the SQA.