IRMO, SC (WIS) - Genetically-modified foods have become a nutritional concern in the past few years.
A Dutch Fork High School junior's research into how a chemical such as a pesticide affects plants and the organisms that consume them earned him fourth place in international competition.
"This research could mean vast things for the future," said Brett Winters. His project, Effects of Genetically-Engineered Maize and Glyphosate on Eisenia fetida Growth and Reproduction, won 4th place in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Los Angeles. He placed first in the state competition to earn the trip to Los Angeles.
"A lot of research has been conducted in this area, but no research has made the same bacterial link that I have," he said. "I've found that these chemicals in this genetic modification does indeed have an effect on bacteria, and then the bacteria thus affects other non-target organisms."
To simplify the project so we can understand: Winters found that pesticide chemicals applied to corn plants showed up in bacteria inside earthworms that were fed the corn, or organisms that were not part of the original intention of application. Winters explains the process in a video clip attached to this story.
"It makes us more aware that the simple things we do on a daily basis and the simple changes we make in our diets, in our lifestyles, such as using chemicals or consuming genetically-modified goods, it can have an effect on our health, whether we know it or not," he said.
"It's unavoidable now," said Winters. "Unfortunately, genetically-modified foods and foods sprayed with chemicals are all around us and it's extremely difficult to avoid unless you live on a farm and only eat what you grow."
"To put my project in front of the entire world, put it on the world stage, it felt absolutely invigorating. Amazing," he said. "To be exposed to the best science fair projects in the entire world, it was enlightening that there's so much being found out about our world that we don't even realize."
"Everybody's going to be interested in what his research is going to show about the effects of the genetically-modified organisms on the soil crops," said Dutch Fork STEM Coordinator Carl Tilson.
And Winters says there's more work to be done. He wants to take his research with him to college.
"This information should definitely be taken further," he said. "I can definitely see myself on this as a career. I love working with genetic engineering."
"Brett's a very self-motivated student who could potentially learn anything and I don't feel like Brett has any limits to his abilities to excel in science," Tilson said.