Science project may benefit world's poor
Glenelg student discovers protein in yogurt that kills diarrhea-causing bacterium
By Karen Nitkin
special to the [Baltimore] sun
Originally published February 22, 2006
"I never thought it would come to this," she said.
Her freshman science teacher, Deano Smith, said Fasano was chatty in class and did not always pay attention. "I had a number of talks with her and her parents about working on focus," he said. That's certainly changed, he noted. "It was a matter of feeding the interest, and she stuck with it."
It all started at the Fasano kitchen table. "I'm sitting in my kitchen eating yogurt," she said, and she happened to notice that the container listed an unusual ingredient - lactobacillus. "So I Googled it," she said, "and I was introduced to what are known as probiotics."
For her freshman science project, she obtained - through her father - dishes of E.coli 042, added varying amounts of yogurt, and chronicled the results. The dish with the most yogurt had the least E.coli, so she was able to say that yogurt kills E.coli.
That was enough to win a top prize at both the school and the county science fair, but it wasn't enough to satisfy her curiosity. In Serena's sophomore year, the goal of her science project was to determine precisely what in the yogurt was killing the E.coli.
At that point, she began working with Dr. James Nataro, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Maryland medical school, and with graduate student Nick Morin, who was familiar with lactobacillus.
"He taught me a lot," Fasano said of Morin. "He's not a doctor, and I kind of liked that. It was comfortable. I would ask him questions, and he would laugh at me. It was more laid-back because we were two students."
By the time of the science fair, she was able to state that the lactobacillus in the yogurt was secreting a substance that was toxic to the E.coli 042.