ASHG Announces 2019 Winners of International DNA Day Essay Contest

Published: Thursday, April 25, 2019, 12:00 p.m. U.S. Eastern Time

Media Contact: Nalini Padmanabhan, 301.634.7346,

Contest Addressed Familial Disclosure of Huntington’s Disease Diagnosis

First-place winner Sophia Chen and science teacher Dr. Devin Parry
(courtesy Lakeside School)

ROCKVILLE, Md. – As part of its celebration of National DNA Day, The American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) announced today the winners of its 2019 DNA Day Essay Contest, which encourages high school students and teachers worldwide to learn about human genetics concepts and apply them to current scientific and societal issues. ASHG awarded first place to Sophia Chen, a junior at Lakeside School in Seattle, Wash.; second place to Yanna Bravewolf, a freshman at The Potomac School in McLean, Va.; and third place to Irene Calderon, a freshman at The Summit Country Day in Cincinnati, Ohio.

ASHG received essays from 1088 students from 45 U.S. states and 24 non-U.S. countries, who explored an ethical dilemma in human genetics. More than 300 ASHG members evaluated the results for accuracy, creativity, and writing. Since 2006, the Society has led the contest annually and seeks to spark excitement and learning among the next generation of genetics professionals and foster greater genetic literacy among the general public.

This year, students were asked to consider the goals, rights, and duties involved in deciding whether a father’s Huntington’s disease (HD) diagnosis should be revealed to his adult child. After considering both sides, students chose one argument to defend, using their knowledge of the scientific and medical aspects of HD.

“As genetic testing becomes more widespread in its use and public attention, we were interested in science students’ views on the complex ethical questions raised by the results of such tests,” said Jannine D. Cody, PhD, Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Texas Health at San Antonio, and Chair of ASHG’s Information & Education Committee.

“The winning essay was impressive because of the author’s appreciation of the genetic realities of Huntington’s disease and clear presentation of the ethical arguments for and against disclosure,” Dr. Cody said.

National DNA Day, celebrated annually on April 25, commemorates the discovery of DNA’s double helix structure in 1953 and the completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003, two key milestones in genetics.

ASHG will award monetary prizes to winning students as well as grants for genetics laboratory equipment to eligible teachers. Chen will receive a $1000 prize, Bravewolf will receive a $600 prize, and Calderon will receive a $400 prize.

Honorable mentions were awarded to 11 students, each of whom will receive a $100 monetary prize. The recipients of honorable mentions, listed alphabetically by last name, are:

  • Emma Gurcan, a junior at Partnership for Scientific Inquiry in Portland, Ore.
  • Weston Hicks, a freshman at The Potomac School in McLean, Va.
  • Alex Hu, a junior at Darien High School in Darien, Conn.
  • Sydney Kim, a junior at Convent of the Sacred Heart in Greenwich, Conn.
  • Katherine Lei, a junior at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Md.
  • Sheili Lewis, a freshman at Los Altos High School in Los Altos, Calif.
  • Grace McDevitt, a junior at Convent of the Sacred Heart in Greenwich, Conn.
  • Edward Tucker Scott, a freshman at Ranney School in Tinton Falls, N.J.
  • Sarina Smith, a senior at Plymouth Whitemarsh High School in Plymouth Meeting, Penn.
  • Shifa Somji, a senior at Newport High School in Bellevue, Wash.
  • Manu Sundaresan, a junior at Winston Churchill High School in Potomac, Md.

For details on the 2019 contest winners, including photos and the winning essays, see:

About the American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG)

Founded in 1948, the American Society of Human Genetics is the primary professional membership organization for human genetics specialists worldwide. Its nearly 8,000 members include researchers, academicians, clinicians, laboratory practice professionals, genetic counselors, nurses, and others with an interest in human genetics. The Society serves scientists, health professionals, and the public by providing forums to: (1) share research results through the ASHG Annual Meeting and in The American Journal of Human Genetics; (2) advance genetic research by advocating for research support; (3) educate current and future genetics professionals, health care providers, advocates, policymakers, educators, students, and the public about all aspects of human genetics; and (4) promote genetic services and support responsible social and scientific policies. For more information, visit:

6120 Executive Blvd, Suite 500 | Rockville, MD 20852 | 301.634.7300 | |
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