The investigation by the students from Loreto Secondary School Balbriggan, Co Dublin, is seen as crucial for the environment and the food industry.
Maria Louise Fufezan, 16, and Diana Bura, 15, looked at the lifespan of the Caenorhabditis Elegans, a microscopic roundworm that lives in the soil. They found that the enzymes shortened the lifespan of free-living transparent nematode and left the 1mm-long organism less able to move about.
Diana had wondered why the chickens on her grandmother’s farm were much smaller than commercial birds and decided to find out why.
The girls found that a food additive used in commercial feed had the capacity to damage the tiny worms.
The students had entered their project in the intermediate section of the biological and ecological sciences category. Both were entering the competition for the first time.
Category judge, Prof Grace McCormack, said the girls had provided new evidence that there might be an unexpected detrimental change in behaviour and lifespan of the essential worms.
“The work is important for the environment and the food industry and will undoubtedly lead to further research in this important area,” said Prof McCormack.
At an awards ceremony in the RDS in Dublin last night, Maria and Diana were presented with a cheque for €5,000 and a perpetual trophy.
The girls have also been given the opportunity to represent Ireland at the 28th EU Young Scientist competition in Brussels later this year.
Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan, who announced the top award winners,said the exhibition allowed young people a wonderful opportunity to showcase their talent and potential.
“It allows you to develop your natural instincts of curiosity and, as Einstein once said: ‘I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious’,” said Ms O’Sullivan.
This year almost 1,200 student from across the island of Ireland covering 550 projects competed for the title.
The award for best individual went to transition-year student Shane Curran, 16, from Terenure College, Dublin, for his project ‘Velodrome: The Automated Logistics Fulfilment Platform’.
Shane, who entered in the technology category at intermediate level, had developed a computer programme that controls a courier service.
The runner-up group prize went to sith-year students, Gabriel Barat, 17, and Adrian Wolniak, 16, from Synge Street CBS, Dublin, for their project — ‘A Mathematical Model of Coffee Rust’.
The group were entered in the chemical, physical, and mathematical sciences category at senior level for their computer model to track a coffee plant disease.
The award for individual runner-up went to fifth-year student Renuka Chintapalli, 16, from Loreto Secondary School Balbriggan for her project on developing a predictive tool for identifying when an oesophageal cancer is spreading.
Renuka was entered in the biological and ecological sciences category at senior level.