New Rochelle High Senior Links
Stress Disorder to Genetics

The students in New Rochelle High School’s Science Research Program explore a dazzling range of topics under the mentorship of experts from some of the top institutions of learning and exploration. 


Student: Natalia McMorris, senior


Mentor: Jake Egelberg, biochemistry major, Northeastern University


New Rochelle High School’s Natalia McMorris has long been interested in science, largely due to the sheer number of unexplained things in our world.


The human brain is just one subject that holds great intrigue for her, so it was only natural she made it her focus in her work with the school’s Science Research Program.


“I wanted to know why our brains work the way they do, why we behave the way we behave psychologically, and if there is a biological explanation behind it,” she said.


McMorris decided to specifically focus her research on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), due in part to having secondhand experience with the disorder.


“I became interested in this specific topic because I have family members with PTSD and I have always wondered if there could be a way to detect and treat it early on,” she said.


The subject of McMorris’s research: studying genetic changes due to exposure to traumatic events and determining whether the onset of PTSD can be predicted. For the purpose of this study, her subjects were members of the military.


McMorris began by conducting research on both PTSD and genetic sequencing before selecting the genetic sequences she would run in R Studio, a data-analysis program. She then selected five pre-military deployment sequences and matching post-deployment sequences to analyze. The data resulting from the analysis were presented in multiple graphs.


She found there were genetic-sequencing changes in deployed Marines exposed to trauma. Further research will be required to support these findings, but it is a significant early step in early detection and treatment of the disorder.


McMorris hopes to be part of that further research.


“After high school, I plan to study psychology in college and continue conducting research on PTSD related to behavioral science,” she said. “My hope is to continue studying PTSD over time, and hopefully I can help find a way to identify and treat PTSD at an early enough stage where no one will ever have to suffer with PTSD ever again.”


The experience of being part of the Science Research Program has been extremely positive for McMorris, who feels a sense of community with her fellow researchers.


“We support each other even when we are competing against each other,” she said. “One person’s accomplishment is everyone’s accomplishment, and that is what makes the Science Research Program so special.”