Rising Mancos 11th grader Kylie Guiles is making scientific waves in the Four Corners.
This past year, she was selected to participate in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Phoenix, Arizona, competing against 1,800 students from some 80 different countries. She didn’t place, but the event and her fellow student scientists reinforced her love of science.
“I was so inspired by all the different projects,” she said. “Because every single project had the potential to help people in some way.”
Guiles didn’t actually know about the final event, but wanted to compete in the local science fair. And in her project, she wanted to combine her two passions: agriculture and medicine.
She decided to address the overuse of antibiotics in feedlots, which has led to the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that can then be passed onto human hosts.
“I was attempting to find a better treatment plan to treat the animals in feedlots with, so that it would reduce their antibiotic resistance,” she said. “And by reducing the animals’ antibiotic resistance, it would in turn reduce humans’ antibiotic resistance when they consumed the animals.”
In the fall, then-sophomore Guiles approached Mancos science teacher Sensa Wolcott, who was more than happy to support her endeavors.
“At the high school level it’s all on their own time, it’s not a class requirement or anything like that,” Wolcott said. “They just do it if they’re interested.”
Over an 18-days in winter, Guiles treated E. coli in petri dishes with penicillin, and found a way to minimize the antibiotic use while still treating the bacteria.
“I found out that when treating E. coli with penicillin, that pretreating a tiny bit and then doing one additional dose of antibiotics once it is infected is just as effective as pretreating and doing 10 additional doses,” she said. “So I found that there was an extra nine doses of unnecessary antibiotics that’s typically used.”
Guiles project is still in the potential phase – it’s unclear how it could safely be implemented without harming the livestock, and her project was focused solely on E. coli and penicillin. But, she said, it’s a starting point.
Data compilation and science fair preparations began soon after her trials. She had to have a scientific abstract, and Guiles spent a lot of time practicing her presentation with Mancos teachers, especially Wolcott.
“She did all of it,” Wolcott said. “She came up with the procedure and everything on her own. Really my role was just support and guidance when she had questions, editing final products, and just guiding her through the process.”
Guiles first took part in the local Mancos science fair, before moving onto the regional contest in Durango. She won the regional fair, which qualified her both for the state round in addition to the international contest in Phoenix. Because of her performance in regionals, her travels to Phoenix were paid for, along with food and lodging.
The experience was rewarding, Guiles said, in large part because of the other students.
“I met so many people that I will be in contact with for the rest of my life,” she said. “And our goals are the same, so we had really smart, intelligent conversations about science and everything.”
Wolcott said the experience was helpful for her too, and that she hopes other Mancos high-schoolers will take part in future years.
“It was really helpful to our school for her to go do this, and for me to see the opportunities out there for students,” Wolcott said. “And so we’re going to be starting a STEM club at the high school in the hopes to get more high school kids interested.”
Guiles plans to participate in science fair next year, although she doesn’t yet know what her project will be, or what she will do with the results from this year’s research. This summer, though, she will be dividing her time between attending medicine camps in Denver and helping irrigate on her family’s ranch.