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Over 6,000 essays were written for this year’s contest, and ASHG received record-breaking entries from teachers in 47 states and 15 foreign countries, including Iran, Egypt, Afghanistan, Lithuania, and Nigeria. Asking students to discuss the impacts of the discovery of the structure of DNA and the sequencing of the first human genome engaged students in thinking about big picture ideas and the applications of scientific knowledge. Many thoughtful and well-written essays were submitted. Over 350 genetics experts from the ASHG membership participated in judging the essays. We thank them for their help.

Congratulations to the 2012 winners and thank you all for participating. Happy DNA Day!

2012 Essay Question

Genes exert their influence on organisms by being turned on and off in precise ways and at precise times. Disease can result when problems arise during this process of “gene regulation.” The first processes of gene regulation to be discovered involved molecular ‘switches’ that regulate transcription at gene promoters. In the last 20 years, genomic research has uncovered many new types of gene regulation that earlier researchers would have never imagined. Genes can be regulated by repressors, activators, enhancers, epigenetic changes to chromatin, RNA interference, the environment, and other processes. Choose one of the gene regulation processes listed above and, using references to support your argument, explain why/how that regulatory process is critically important to ONE of the following:

  • early development
  • normal cell function
  • causation of disease or cell malfunction

2012 Contest Winners:

Click the names below to view essay excerpts.


Nathan Swetlitz


Grade 11 ($1,000)


Robert Taylor

Chicagoland Jewish High School, Deerfield, IL

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Kevin Zhang


Grade 12 ($600)


Maria Simon

Hatboro-Horsham High School, Horsham, PA

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Girish Chandrasekar


Grade 10 ($400)


Nicholas DiGiovanni

Naperville Central High School, Naperville, IL

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Honorable Mentions

Vivienne Chen
Montgomery Blair High School, MD
Teacher: Angelique Bosse
Kristen Datta
St. Paul Academy and Summit School, MN
Teacher: Tina Barsky
Gabrielle Ewall
Cold Spring Harbor High School, NY
Teacher: Jaak Raudsepp
Emily Kragel
Junius H. Rose High School, NC
Teacher: Jedediah Smith
Jason Lam
Stuyvesant High School, NY
Teacher: Maria Nedwidek
Lindsay Leigler
Tesoro High School, CA
Teacher: Megan Gray  
Lucy Li
St. Paul Academy and Summit School, MN
Teacher: Tina Barsky
Brian Lue
The John Cooper School, TX
Teacher: Holly Barlaam
Tejas Sundaresan
North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, NC
Teacher: Myra Halpin
Monica Woolley
Punahou School, HI
Teacher: Marguerite Ashford

View DNA Day 2012 Essay Contest Entries in a full screen map

About the Contest

The contest aims to challenge students to examine, question, and reflect on important ideas and issues related to human genetics. Competitive essays are expected to convey substantive, well-reasoned, and evidence-based arguments that demonstrate deep understanding.

Essays are evaluated through three rounds of judging, and every essay is read by a minimum of three judges. Top-scoring essays have typically been scored by a dozen or more judges. 

Questions/Comments: Contact