By Raquel Kanner
The Science Research program has had a monumental year thus far, receiving numerous awards and honors from various prestigious institutions and organizations. All students enrolled in this course are extremely talented and passionate about their research, and Brent Perlman is no exception. Brent’s research focused on the question that has crossed everyone’s mind at some point: can humans conduct photosynthesis? Essentially, by manipulating a pre-existing relationship between the human cells and isolated chloroplasts, which are the photosynthesis-conducting components of plant cells, Brent was able to induce photosynthesis in human cells for the first time.
Recently, Brent was a finalist in the Regeneron Science Talent Search, a prestigious science competition that receives over 2,000 submissions every year. Out of these 2,000 entries, 40 young scientists are named as finalists and present their work in Washington D.C. to compete for many different awards. Earlier in March, Brent placed seventh in the competition, earning him a $70,000 scholarship to use towards his education. Whether in the science research room, at competitions, or presenting his work to a multitude of judges in D.C., Brent is a force to be reckoned with, and he continues to raise the bar for ASR students in the future. I sat down with Brent to ask him questions about his experience as a Regeneron finalist, and his study, as well as the future for his research.
How did you feel when you were named as one of the 40 finalists as well as when you placed seventh place overall in the Regeneron Science Talent Search?
I was beyond excited. It was so thrilling to know that I was recognized by such a prestigious institution and competition, but also to know that I had such an amazing experience with the other 39 finalists, all of which were all amazing. Being named as a finalist and placing was such an honor and truly life-changing.
Explain your week in Washington, D.C. where you earned this title.
The first two to three days consisted of random interviews, meaning that we were in a hotel, and there were five different rounds of interviews with different judges. These judges could ask us anything in the field of science; it could be computer science, physics, biology, chemistry, and more. After those five interviews came to an end, we had another day of interviews, known as the project interview. In this interview, we essentially presented our poster to many different judges, all coming from many different scientific backgrounds. Once all of that was over, we had a public session, where we were able to present our work to the public. During the rest of our week in Washington, we got to tour our nation’s capital. We went to such amazing places, such as the National Institute of Health, the Capitol Building, and we even did a monument tour.
For those who do not know about your research, can you give a brief explanation of what you did?
My work broadly dealt with photosynthesis, which is the process by which plants use energy from the sun to produce oxygen and sugar from carbon dioxide and water. I was able to induce photosynthesis in human cells for the first time by manipulating a pre-existing relationship between the human cells and isolated chloroplasts, which are the photosynthesis-conducting components of plant cells. My research currently has applications in the treatment of heart attack, stroke, cancer, the expedition of wound healing, in the production of low cost drugs, such as insulin, in vivo, or in a person’s body in real time, and even in the creation of the first tissue-engineered organs, such as a heart in a lab.
Where did your inspiration for your topic come from?
I guess a lot of people could say they always had the question regarding why humans cannot photosynthesize in the back of their head when they learn about photosynthesis in seventh-grade biology. How I actually came across human photosynthesis was a little bit more circuitous. I was initially looking into heart attacks and ways that we can try and improve a patient’s life after they have a heart attack. I started to look into mitochondria, partly because they play a large role in heart failure, and it is often overlooked. From looking at mitochondria, I read several journal articles and eventually branched out to chloroplasts and then human photosynthesis.
What’s next for your research? What do you hope for?
I plan to continue my research over the next few years in college, and I hope that other labs and other researchers who have heard about my work try to apply my findings in their own fields because it is the only way the true therapeutic benefits of my work can be realized. I also think there need to be many more studies that confirm my results before we go out and say definitively that human cells can conduct photosynthesis.
Brent undeniably has a bright future ahead of him, and this is just the beginning of his scientific journey. As Brent said, “it is our job as the next generation of leaders to innovate and revolutionize previously stagnant fields of science and change the world. Don’t let anyone tell you that your ideas are the naive dreams of an inexperienced high school student; if something hasn’t been done before, work hard enough and you might just be the next big thing.”