Grace Killeen, a New Life Academy senior, spent her summer learning genome editing using the most advanced method in Biotechnology, CRISPR-Cas9. CRISPR-Cas9 is currently the simplest, fastest, most efficient and reliable methods for editing genes. It enables geneticists to study the affects of altered genes is showing promise as a tool for treating human diseases such as cancer or other life-threatening conditions.
Grace first became interested in pursuing a scientific career years ago when she was on the Hippology (study of horses) team in 4H. She spent 5 years learning and studying veterinary sciences, nutrition and equine genetics. She competed at the state and national level, even becoming a national champion.
Her love of studying and the sciences drove her to pursue a more practical application that would allow her to work with people. With a lot of book knowledge, she set out to find a way to get more hands on experience as she prepares for college next year. In pursuit of a summer internship, she contacted many local universities to explore opportunities in a lab. Her efforts led her to Dr Irina Makarevitch’s lab at Hamline University modifying genes in the Arabidopsis plant using CRISPR-Cas9. Grace and two senior pre-med Hamline students, under the study of Dr Makarevitch, collaborated with the U of M to bring CRISPER-Cas9 to the lab at Hamline University. They spent the summer optimizing protocols, designing vectors and infecting the plant seeds with their DNA sequence. The result of the experiment is still ongoing and Grace is hoping to see her T1 generation plant grow with small and disfigured leaves, a sign that the gene editing technique was successful based on the vector that she designed.
When reflecting on her time in the lab this summer, Grace expressed her appreciation to be able to learn from Dr. Makarevitch. “At first, it was like another language but by the end of the summer I was able to evaluate valid research papers, understand the subject, and discuss experiments and results with my labmates” said Grace.
She has been invited to participate in the Hamline Undergraduate Research Symposium later this month as well as continue her research next summer. “Grace is a wonderful student, very motivated and very driven. She worked with two Hamline students side by side in modifying / knocking out genes in a model plant called Arabidopsis. Grace was very focused on learning, participated in reading and discussing primary journal articles, demonstrated strong ability to follow experimental protocols and analyze results, and make conclusions” said Dr. Makarevitch.
When asked about the 15% Innovation Portfolio as New Life Academy, Grace finds it the perfect platform to explore research that she is interested in. She hopes to be able to continue her Arabidopsis experiment for her 15% IP project this year. “The ability to show colleges that I have been doing independent research and that I am becoming a free thinker in science, being creative and not just learning in a classroom setting really sets me up well for the college programs I am pursuing” says Grace.
Grace is currently pursuing premedical programs and is looking at Creighton University and Baylor University.