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Undergraduates show off their research at the Capitol

Undergraduates show off their research at the Capitol

(Preston Cathcart, KSL)


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SALT LAKE CITY — The Capitol saw 50 undergraduate researchers from Utah State and the University of Utah gather in the rotunda on Wednesday to show off their latest projects representing in science to sociology to literature.

At one booth, a pair of Utah State biochemistry students, Melena Garrett and Riannon Smith, said they successfully transplanted the gene-editing DNA known as CRISPR into common strains of E. coli. CRISPR is a naturally occurring defense mechanism against viral infection that is found in a range of bacteria. Scientists in recent years have been able to commandeer the CRISPR system and use it to snip out sequences of DNA anywhere in a genome and replace it with whatever genetic code they please.

"The bacteria that these CRISPR systems are grown in are very hard to work with because they grow at low PHs, they have heavy metals in their nutrients, and they are very slow to cultivate," said Garrett.

E. colimicrobes are much easier to work with a lab setting for CRISPR research, according to Garrett.

Smith said the 25 students from Utah State and 25 Utes came to the Capitol to show legislators the importance of undergraduate research.

Kyle Hillman, a biological engineering student at Utah State, showed off a strategy to combat toxic algal blooms in Utah Lake and other bodies of water around the state.

Hillman's team developed a scalable method for extracting the harmful microbes from fresh water. Once harvested, Hillman proposes that the toxic algae be disposed of at the Central Valley Water Reclamation Facility, which can extract the agricultural nutrients from the environment permanently.

In the summer of 2016, Utah Lake was closed for two weeks as an algal bloom spread across 90 percent of it. There were continuing problems in the lake last summer.

Hillman urged continuing support of research at Utah State and other institutions.

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