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Impact Magazine

Triple Crown of Student Achievements

This year, students in the College of Life Sciences were recognized across campus for their innovation, research, and character.

BYU Student Innovator
of the Year (SIOY),
Cayden Bro & Philip Morrison


The Uncomfortable Truth of Unprofitable Chicks

A smokestack billows above a chicken sexing factory. A man takes a break from his work—dividing the unprofitable male chicks from the female chicks—and explains to his son what will happen to the male chicks. “[They] are discarded there,” he says, pointing to the smokestack. “Male chicks don’t taste good. They can’t lay eggs and have no use.”

Cayden Bro (CELL ’23) was intrigued after watching this scene of chicken culling in Minari, a 2020 film about a Korean family farming in Arkansas. He wondered if there was a way to apply the science he used in his lab to end chicken culling.

Chicken culling, a standard procedure used across the world to maximize farming output, is the practice of disposing of male chicks en masse after birth. Male chicks won’t lay eggs or fatten up like female chicks, so raising unnecessary roosters is unprofitable. Approximately eight billion male chicks are killed—incinerated, suffocated, or gassed—each year.

In a darkened room, a light-skinned man with short brown hair and stubble peers into a miscroscope, his hands adjusting the machine. On the screen behind him is a green image with gray lines and a large white clob in the middle.
Photo by Nicholas Rex

From Grandma’s backyard coup to national farming associations, culling allows us to meet the demands of our poultry market and waste fewer resources on raising roosters. But chicken culling is an uncomfortable truth staring at us from the aisles of the supermarket. Even the raising of “organic,” “free-range,” or “ethically sourced” eggs involves the killing of male chicks.

Bro has turned to science to explore potential solutions. Can chickens’ genes be altered to produce fewer male embryos? Can male embryos be identified before they hatch? While the hen-to-rooster ratio our economy expects will not change, Bro believes our ethical practices can.

“Grocery Store” Science

Bro studies genes and how alterations to genetic material produce effects and defects in Dr. Jonathon Hill’s lab. Bro was born with a cleft lip and palate. “I’ve always been interested in how things work,” he explains. “So when I thought about the genetic changes that made me who I am, I wondered if I could make a birth defect go wrong, but for the right reason.” Bro is motivated to understand what makes him him, and us us.

In what Bro calls “grocery store science,” his project is not to invent new technology but rather to construct a new procedure by combining existing experiments, much like selecting ingredients at a grocery store. Using CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) technology, he is engineering a congenital disability, or birth defect, that will only be inherited by male embryos. CRISPR is a bacterial protein that causes mutations at specific sites in the genetic material. Bro’s CRISPR gene is designed to react in male embryos and cause embryonic arrest before fertilization. If male chicken birth can be regulated through genetic modification, then chick culling could become obsolete.

In a darkened room, a light-skinned man in the background peers into a microscope. Heavily in the foreground is a green screen with the shape of a small circle stacked on top of a large one. A white blob stands out from the center of the mass.
A microscope capable of capturing photographs displays a glowing zebrafish heart. The fish has been genetically modified with fluorescent green proteins that respond to the wavelengths emitted by the microscope. Bro determines whether the heart has a pulse; if dead, the CRISPR gene has successfully arrested the male embryo.
Photo by Nicholas Rex

Next March, Expect Chickens

With the help of his research partner, Philip Morrison (PWS ’23), Bro filed a patent with the name Bro-less, because they are dedicated to producing brotherless hens. In March, Bro and Morrison participated in the BYU College of Engineering’s Student Innovator of the Year (SIOY) competition—a campus-wide call for student entrepreneurs to present their inventions and ideas. Bro-less won first place.

“I just want to say thanks,” Bro says. “BYU is a really special university for mentored undergraduate research. I’ve always been really fascinated by discovery, figuring things out on my own. There’s a whole world out there, and once you learn new things, it’s like you can breathe underwater.” Bro is inspired by genes—his genes, our genes, and the potential in chicken genes. He is excited to contribute to something larger than himself. When asked what he hopes for by next year, Bro says, “Next March, expect chickens.”

BYU 3-Minute Thesis Winner, Mayra Hernandez Sanchez


“Children are our future,” Mayra Hernandez Sanchez began. “As such, it’s important to equip them with the right tools to succeed.”

Hernandez (NDFS ’23), a master’s student studying nutritional science, presented to a small auditorium filled with science professors, mentors, peers, and a few curious on-lookers straining to read the comparative graphs on the fuzzy projector screen. This was the college-level 3-Minute Thesis competition—an event for BYU graduate students to present their research and receive funding. Henandez won first place.

From the angle of the metal table looking up, the image features a medium-skinned woman with dark hair pulled back in a kitchen as she wears a blue glove to pour grainy materials from a plastic jug into a white coffee filter resting on a scale.
Photo by Nicholas Rex

Hernandez researched school nutrition. How do we get kids to eat more vegetables? The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, advocated for by Michelle Obama, set strict requirements for the nutrition of school lunches and provided kids with nutritious options. But most kids aren’t eating the healthy food—it’s put onto trays, picked around, and thrown away.

Hernandez and her team set out to increase vegetable consumption. The key? Find a vegetable kids like, make it smiley, and mix it with the less fun vegetables. Potato Smiles—potato wedges chopped into a happy grin—did the trick. When the smiles were mixed with other vegetables, the amount of food kids threw away decreased, and childhood nutrition increased.

Two weeks after the college-level event, Hernandez presented her research at the university level. She competed against theses on Mother Mary painted as a co-sacrifice in 16th century art, the reversible effects of inhalers on the larynx, and video game addiction. Hernandez’s family drove 485 miles to support her. On the bigger stage, she won first place again.

“I represent my people,” she says. “I’m proud. My accomplishments are the culmination of thedreams and sacrifices of many people before me. I hope that I inspire others to do great things and show them that sí se puede.”

A medium-skinned woman with chest-length dark hair wears a pink blouse with ruffled sleeves. She clasps her hands together - nails painted green - as she leans on a metal table and smiles. Shiny silver metal pots hang above her hand, and in the background is a darkened cafeteria area.
Photo by Nicholas Rex

BYU Student Employee
of the Year, Juliette Ball


Many titles come to mind when describing Juliette Ball (MMBIO ’23)—logical thinker, first-generation college student, Life Sciences Student Council president—but the most important one to her is learner. “Most sticky situations I find myself in are a result of forgetting my call to learn—from my experiences, from God, and from the wonderful people in my life,” she says. “Regardless of any other status I may gain and lose over the course of my life, I hope I always remember to learn.”

A light-skinned woman with thick curly dirty blonde hair going past her shoulders wears a black turtleneck and sits at a desk. She gazes at two monitors in front of her and navigates with the mouse in her foreground hand.
Photo by Nicholas Rex

Ball is BYU’s student employee of the year, nominated by her co-workers. As an office secretary at the Office of the General Counsel—BYU’s team of attorneys—Ball is always learning. She researches cases varying from copyright issues to sexual misconducts, plots to solve the world’s inflated insulin prices and expose the unethical practices of elder law, ponders how the matriarchal structure of elephant herds lowers infant mortality rate, and refills staplers. Recently, she helped write and edit court petitions that will allow BYU to grant scholarships to students who were previously denied because of antiquated legal structures. Ball’s many tasks have required her to learn.

Regardless of any other status I may gain and lose over the course of my life, I hope I always remember to learn.

As she prepares to graduate in microbiology and take the LSAT, Ball is learning how to trust in the powers she can’t control while doing the best with the efforts she can. “I have to remind myself constantly to stop relying on logic so much—God’s logic is in a dimension that I don’t understand. Love transcends space and time. I have to let it in. It can be so annoying to a logical brain. But love is not logical.”