A high school student made history by sequencing his deceased pet’s genome

"This is a wonderful example of an inquisitive spirit and what young scientists can do when you remove technology barriers."
Chris Young
Zebra angelfish

What a way to honor a pet that's passed on.

A 17-year-old high school student in California became the first person to sequence the genome of the freshwater angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare) when he decided to learn how to sequence a genome using his deceased pet, a report from NewScientist reveals.

Though the fish's genome sequence didn't reveal any particularly surprising results, it highlights the potential benefits of making technology accessible to burgeoning scientists the world over — as the student in question was able to access a sequencer through a local community lab.

Honoring a deceased pet by sequencing its genome

The student, Indeever Madireddy, set out to honor his pet angelfish Calvin after it died in March this year by sequencing its genome. He has published his findings in a paper available on a public database.

“Although my fish was dead, I wanted to preserve it forever,” Madireddy told NewScientist in an interview. “So I decided to sequence the genome of the angelfish with the hopes that I could contribute that information to the scientific community, while also paying a small tribute to my pet!”

The young student carried out the sequencing process at BioCurious, a community lab in Santa Clara, California, that makes state-of-the-art equipment available to members who pay a small membership fee. In order to preserve his fish's DNA, he stored it at -80°C at the lab while he learned how to carry out the sequencing process.

Once he learned the procedure, Madireddy used a small sequencer made by Oxford Nanopore to sequence his deceased pet's genome. The entire process took approximately two weeks to complete. Sequencers gradually piece together the sequence of DNA molecules as they pass through tiny pores on the device.

Removing technology barriers for young scientists

After completing the sequencing process, it took another two months to analyze the data, according to Madireddy. The entire process cost $2,000, almost half of which Madireddy raised via crowdfunding.

Madireddy has previously carried out work using CRISPR gene editing and he actually raised Calving and a number of other angelfish from the egg stage. The angelfish is native to the Amazon basin and it's a popular pet fish the world over.

Though Madireddy's angelfish genome sequence didn't reveal anything particularly surprising — it's very similar to other related fish — the student's sequencing shows how making advanced technology accessible to the public can lead to impressive results. As Gordon Sanghera, CEO of Oxford Nanopore, notes, "this is a wonderful example of an inquisitive spirit and what young scientists can do when you remove technology barriers like cost and complexity."

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