A Grade 11 student from Winnipeg's Sisler High School is heading to Ottawa this weekend to compete against eight others in the national Sanofi Biogenius Canada (SBC) science competition.
Dennis Drewnik has spent four years studying molecular plant biology to find a solution for the fungi that plagues Canada's canola crops, without using chemical fertilizers.
Drewnik became interested in plant biology in the eighth grade when he picked up his sister's science text book from the University of Manitoba. She then introduced her brother to Mark Belmonte, a professor at the university, who has mentored Drewnik and guided him in his research ever since.
"Dennis is an incredibly hard-working student and it shows when he comes to the lab. I mentor him almost every Saturday and each weekend he comes in with more questions, ready to hit the ground running and excited about the discoveries he's about to make," Belmonte said.
It's about harnessing the passion for science into real-world solutions, Belmonte said, which is exactly what Drewnik is trying to do.
"I was trying to identify genes that are responsible for protecting canola against fungal pathogens. And then basically trying to figure out how those genes interact at the molecular level and why they are regulators of plant defence," Drewnik told CBC's Information Radio Friday.
Did we mention he's 16?
Drewnik's research could help to create a genetically modified canola crop immune to fungal pathogens. For now, Drewnik explained that there is no known resistance to the funguses that devastate crops every year.
"So we wouldn't have to increase farming land or even spray chemical pesticides which are harmful to our environment," he said.
In Manitoba alone, more than 1.25 million hectares of land are seeded with canola every year.
Sunday, Drewnik will represent Manitoba when he flies to Ottawa for the national competition where he will vie for the top spot against the other regional finalists.
"If I win first, that would be the most incredible experience of my life," Drewnik said.
"His goal is to attend the U of M and to become a plant molecular biologist... What he might not realize is that he's already there," Belmonte told CBC.