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Biological engineering major shares her research on Capitol Hill

Sarah Gebken at Posters on the Hill.
At Posters on the Hill, MU’s Sarah Gebken spoke with Carmen Gordon from the U.S. Department of Education.

Each year, the competitive nationwide event Posters on the Hill, sponsored by the Council on Undergraduate Research, brings a select group of undergraduate students to Washington, D.C., to showcase their research on Capitol Hill. Last spring, after more than 400 students applied, only 60 were selected to participate, including MU’s Sarah Gebken.

Gebken, who recieves research funding from McNair Scholars, worked with Professor Chris Pires and doctoral student Makenzie Mabry to develop a CRISPR-Cas system for Brassica oleracea, an important economic crop consisting of vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and kohlrabi. CRISPR-Cas is essentially an adaptive immune system that allows for highly efficient alterations of genome expression.

The goal of the research is to manipulate genes using the CRISPR-Cas system in this plant to verify that genes are doing what they think they are and, ultimately, to make better crops in the future.

Gebken was encouraged to apply for Posters on the Hill after participating in the University of Missouri System’s  Undergraduate Research Day at the Capitol in Jefferson City.

As a selected participant for Posters on the Hill, Gebken showcased her project to Congressional members and other government officials, met with state representatives and learned about advocacy for undergraduate research. Gebken spoke with representatives from the National Science Foundation, American Chemical Society, National Institutes of Health and Department of Education, and with a staff member from Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill’s office about undergraduate research.

“It was exhilarating to talk to all of these people who showed an interest in my research and the impact it has had on me as a student and person,” Gebken says.