By: Marty Price, Charlotte Observer
Aarushi Patil, a 13-year-old in the eighth grade at Metrolina Regional Scholars Academy of Charlotte, likes to excel at her school’s science fair.
The daughter of Vishal and Neetu Patil of Charlotte, Aarushi advanced to the state finals of the 2014 N.C. Science and Engineering Fair with her experiment – the use of a sea water fuel cell as an alternative energy source – last year and wanted to repeat in 2015.
This year, Aarushi was out to prove that mixing mushrooms with eggs and exposing the mixture to ultraviolet light would reduce the amount of cholesterol in the egg mixture.
“Mushrooms are supposed to work in your body (lowering cholesterol), and I wanted to see if it would have the same effect in foods,” she said.
Aarushi knew she could do some of the experiment at home, but to read the cholesterol levels would require a professional lab with sophisticated equipment. So she sent out numerous emails, asking for help.
Slavko Komarnytsky, Ph.D., assistant professor of pharmacogenomics, answered her email. He agreed to help her test the cholesterol levels Jan. 7 in the laboratory at the N.C. State University Plants for Human Health Institute lab on the North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis.
At home, Aarushi mixed the mushrooms and raw eggs together and put them into separate sample tubes, made a control sample of eggs only and then decided to test watermelon seeds and cilantro seeds in the same manner, making two more categories of samples.
She then exposed the samples to UV light in various durations, ranging from 30 minutes to 12 hours, in hopes of lowering the cholesterol in all of the samples. Knowing that she might need some help in understanding everything, Aarushi asked a family friend, Garima Agarwal, who is working on her doctorate at Ohio State University, to come to the lab and help.
Using a commercially available kit that measures total cholesterol in the test samples based on the colorimetric reaction, Aarushi worked with Komarnytsky to prepare her samples for reading the cholesterol levels.
The preparation took eight hours. Adding the reagent to the samples and using equipment in the lab including the centrifuge – a machine that spins to separate materials of different densities – and an incubator to get the colored samples ready to be measured by the spectrophotometer – a machine that measures how much light passes through the sample.
Research technician Mickey Wilson explained how the spectrophotometer worked to Aarushi before the first reading. The darker the sample is, the higher the reading on that material, and thus the higher the cholesterol for that sample.
The first reading seemed to support her hypothesis, but there were unusual peaks in the readings. Komarnytsky looked at the readings, then looked at her samples and quickly discovered the issue: Aarushi had labeled the bottom of the tray with permanent marker and the writing had corrupted the readings by blocking the light measured.
After cleaning the writing off the bottom of the tray, the second readings were clear. Each of the samples did reduce cholesterol, but the mushrooms and two hours of UV light had the maximum effect.
“She has proven that this procedure can reduce the cholesterol in eggs, and while using UV light isn’t easy for most consumers, it would be more applicable for food companies, because they could use this process to help lower cholesterol in their products,” Komarnytsky said.
“I am really glad they allowed me to do my science fair experiment here,” said Aarushi. “I haven’t been to a professional lab before, and I like it.”
If she wins at her school, Aarushi will advance to the regional competition Feb. 7 at UNC Charlotte. A win there would send her to the state finals March 27-28 in Raleigh.