Peter Enyeart | Genome Editing
Explaining my Research
In my research I take living things apart and put them together in new ways. Though you might imagine me as Dr. Frankenstein when I say that, in reality we don't have to go to the trouble of sewing together dead bodies. As an example, imagine your favorite Chinese restaurant. They have great lo mein, but you just wish they would serve tacos, too. How would you get them to do that? Would you cut a Mexican restaurant in two and attach it to the Chinese restaurant? Would you just get a bunch of tacos and put them in the restaurant? Those methods might get the job done, but a simpler way might be to get a recipe for making tacos, and convince the Chinese restaurant to include that recipe with their other recipes. Living things are like restaurants in that they contain a set of instructions. However, living things are very unusual restaurants whose recipe books tells not just how to make the food but how to build the entire restaurant and everything in it. The word for the recipe book of a living thing is "genome." My research involves editing that recipe book, so I call it "genome editing."
How did you become involved with “Present your PhD Thesis to a 12 year-old” project?
When I was younger I read Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut. One of the characters (a famous scientist) says, "Any scientist who can't explain to an eight-year-old what he is doing is a charlatan." That quote really stuck with me. Josh Russell was a friend of mine, and when he told me about his idea of explaining your thesis to middle school students in 15 minutes, I was skeptical at first, but remembering that quote I soon came to see it as a challenge. I have some experience teaching in elementary and middle schools, which I really enjoyed, and I was excited to get the chance to be back in classrooms.
What is your goal introducing such a project/topic to young students?
The fancy philosophical answer is that I want to show the students that science is not a collection of facts to be memorized but a process that is extremely useful for answering questions and solving problems. But the real reason might be that I think what I do is fun and cool, and I want to share that with other people.