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Maine high school student creates antibiotic alternative for horses

Emma Markowitz lives on the remote island of Trevett. The home-schooled high school junior won an international award for her groundbreaking research.

BOOTHBAY, Maine — There's a lot to be learned from your parents and their experiences. Emma Markowitz is following in her parents' footsteps in the world of science. Through her research, she could be changing the way infections are treated, starting with horses' hooves.

"I’ve always been intrinsically motivated by science," Emma said. "I’ve always picked up my mom’s microbiology books and studied seawater samples under my microscope at home."

In fact, Emma's parents, Steve and Lisa, met in a lab. Emma has spent years in barns with her mother, who now works as a farrier (a craftsperson who cleans and shoes horses' hooves). Emma has also grown up around beehives, learning about colonies and honey with her father. 

Both careers led Emma to some research. Could certain strains of honey, already packed with antimicrobials, be a natural alternative to antibiotics?

"I was initially looking to help diabetics, specifically diabetic ulcers, with honey, but I did not have access to humans," she said. "So I turned to what I did have access to, which was horses."

Emma researched a variety of honeys originating from different nectars. 

"I found that Manuka honey was the best at inhibiting certain bacterial strains," she said. 

She focused that research on healing white line disease, which can lead to deformities in horses’ hooves.  

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"I separated my horses into two categories: the ones who didn’t have the products and the ones who did have the product. The ones who did saw improvements within weeks," Emma said. 

Not only was her product and wrap a natural alternative to sometimes overused antibiotics, but it was also more efficient.

"The ones who did not have the product were very jealous and wanted the product," she said. "And I have a lot of people who are already waiting to see if they can buy the product that I created."

The product won her a second-place award at the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair, where Emma competed against peers from all over the world.

"I got to meet a lot of people from different backgrounds, which was amazing. It’s just indescribable how many people are there and how passionate they are about their research," she said.

The high school junior already has offers to join research projects at colleges throughout New England.

"I just want everyone to know that even if you’re home-schooled and you don’t have the resources available in your community, you can definitely reach out, and there are so many people willing to help," Emma said. 

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