When Patricia Rea finishes her school day and her homework, the 14-year-old heads straight to the basement and gets to work in her science lab.
Her recent research: genetically engineering yeast and proteins from eelpout — an eel-like finned fish — with hopes she can make them survive long-term in extreme heat and cold, like the conditions on Mars.
“I mean the sun is slowly expanding and eventually it’ll burn off everything on Earth … if we want to survive, we’ll have to look up and leave,” Rea told CBC Toronto.
She says that like it should be obvious.
Rea is especially busy this week as she’s gearing up for the Global Bio Summit at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where she’ll present her research and speak on a panel. She calls the opportunity a dream come true, even if it’s taken a lot of hard work to get there.
“I do school, I come home, do homework and then I do this and my social life goes down the drain,” she said laughing.
Rea’s hope is that one day those colonizing Mars will be able to use her discoveries to modify yeast, by using eelpout protein, to make food and plastics.
‘A realm of her own’
Rea has been wowing the Canadian science community for several years.
Justin Pahara, the head scientist at the Alberta-based biotechnology company Amino Labs, and one of her mentors said Rea’s research is pushing the boundaries in biology.
“Her project transcends both what we’re doing terrestrially on Earth and also this really exciting change of where humanity is going to be in a decade or two,” he said.
“She’s gone into a realm of her own.”
But if you’re thinking Rea only got this far because her parents are genius scientists in their own right, you’d be wrong.
Neither has a science background, and admit they don’t always fully understand their daughter’s research.
However, her father, Jim Rea, says they do their best to treat science as if it’s any other extra-curricular activity.
“We probably spend the same amount of money for lab supplies and equipment as someone equipping a goalie for a hockey team,” said Jim.
And while she’s far ahead of most other 14-year-old science students, Rea’s also just a teen.
This weekend, her father will be travelling with her to MIT.
“I can’t do all that by myself,” she says.