Teen Experiments To Find Prevention To Banana Extinction

After reading about bananas facing extinction, St. Timothy Middle School student Grace Flynn wanted to find a prevention.

Flynn, a 13-year-old now in the eighth grade at the West Hartford school, took on the project as a seventh grader. The results of her work landed her in the top 300 nationally in the Broadcom MASTERS, a STEM competition held by the Society for Science and the Public.

"Panama disease is threatening to push bananas into extinction," said Flynn, who lives in West Hartford. "There was a banana called Gros Michel. It was wiped out by Panama disease. Now, we eat the Cavendish variety of banana. That species of banana is also threatened to be wiped out by Panama disease."

What Flynn wanted to do was test whether or not green tea could help bananas. She used salt as a fill in for the Panama disease - which causes the plant to have stunted growth and causes it to yellow - because of the damage it would do to the vascular system, which is what Flynn said the Panama disease targets.

But growing bananas in the middle of the winter in Connecticut wasn't possible. So she chose wheatgrass, another plant that has a vascular system, and one that could be grown easily in her home.

"Wheatgrass has a similar vascular system to bananas," Flynn said. "I couldn't use Panama disease, because it's really contagious. I chose green tea because I wanted to choose something with anti-oxidants because I read it can strengthen the vascular system of humans. I wondered if it could strengthen the vascular system of plants."

To determine the affect of green tea on the wheatgrass, Flynn watered one set of plants with green tea and the other with just water, and measured the results by height and color. She recorded this twice a day for 10 days through three different trials.

Her conclusion was that the green tea was beneficial to the wheatgrass.

"I determined that green tea helps the growth of the wheatgrass and it can protect it against vascular damage," Flynn said.

Science has always been one of her favorite subjects in school. She also participates in the Model UN and cross country and loves to bake and play the classical guitar.

"I've had really good science teachers growing up," Flynn said. "They made it interactive and fun. I like learning about how things work. I've always been interested in life science."

Flynn excelled at her science fair at St. Timothy Middle School, which took her to Quinnipiac University for a state competition, where she got to present to scientists.

"It was a little intense, but I really enjoyed it," Flynn said. "It was really cool to see a community of scientists who were interested in my work."

Excelling there landed her in the top 300 in the country. She's now waiting to hear if she's been selected as one of the top 30 in the country, which would earn her a trip to Washington, D.C.

Perhaps the most exciting part, though, was the results of Flynn's experiment. She would love to learn if green tea would help bananas, because of the implications it could have.

"I would love to see the impact this could have on the world," Flynn said. "I'm really into doing something that will have a bigger impact than on just me. I was really interested to find out that a lot of the countries that rely on the bananas eat three to 11 bananas per day. In some of these nations, it's a main staple."

And that's Flynn's advice to other aspiring scientists: do what you love and don't give up.

"If you get really passionate about something and you're really curious about the results, then you're going to get much farther than if you're doing it because you just have to," Flynn said. "It's really important that even if you have a big fail or if there are obstacles in the way, to keep going if you really care about it."

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