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Madeline Leicht – 2017 Arkansas Soybean Science Challenge Award Winner Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts Science Fair

Madeline Leicht, 17, a senior at the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts in Hot Springs won the Soybean Science Challenge at the 2017 science fair held at the school February 22.

Leicht received a $300 cash award provided by the Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board at the Awards Ceremony on February 24. Her science project titled “GMO Crop Dilemma: Are Genetic Modifications Spreading to Weeds?” also won 1st Place for the Junior Academy of Sciences competition and the Ricoh Sustainable Development Award for science fair projects that have possible future effects on industry and innovation. Her project progressed to the Arkansas State Fair, which will be held March 31 and April 1st at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, where it is eligible for judging for the Soybean Science Challenge $1,000 award at the state level.

Dr. Patrycja Krakowiak, Leicht’s teacher, also won the Soybean Science Challenge Teacher Mentor Award. “It was both a surprise and a great privilege to find out Madeline and I were chosen. It reaffirmed that what we were discovering was important and that there was support for young scientists in our community. Research is often a very long, arduous and thankless process, so having recognition has been truly exhilarating,” Krakowiak said.

Leicht was very grateful to become the first ASMSA Soybean Science Challenge winner and was happy that other people believed that her research could be used to help Arkansas farmers.

When Leicht took the Soybean Science Challenge online course, she found learning about George Washington Carver’s contributions to agriculture and soy nutrition one of the most interesting topics along with learning about soybean uses and production practices.

Prior to completing the online course and conducting the research, Leicht shared that she did not know very much about soybeans. She and her teacher both agree that participation in the Soybean Science Challenge has increased their awareness of the versatility of soybeans and how very important they are to the economy of Arkansas.

Hallie and Josh Leicht, Madeline’s parents, said, “She was interested in plants and animals from a very young age, constantly creating collections of natural objects. Starting in junior high, she began taking as many science and biology classes as were available.” Madeline’s particular interest is in genetics.

Her parents noted that Madeline is the great granddaughter of Presley W. Meacham. Meacham established the Meacham Farm in Monroe County in 1915. The farm is still in operation today, growing soybeans and rice, and is currently run by Meacham’s grandson and Madeline’s cousin, Steve Meacham. The farm was inducted into the Arkansas Century Farm Program in 2016.

Krakowiak said Madeline is an extremely creative and hardworking student. “She has taken both my Genetics and Molecular Biology classes which are taught at a junior year university level. She is resilient and a great critical thinker; whenever an experiment did not work or had to be repeated, she was quick to figure out what to do next and what adjustments needed to be made, collecting far more samples than expected and working tirelessly to isolate, amplify, visualize and analyze their DNA.” Krakowiak predicts that Leicht will continue to grow as a scientist.

“The Soybean Science Challenge allows Arkansas senior-high students to participate in scientific discovery that can make a difference to our state and the world. Soybean farmers help feed the world, and Soybean Science Challenge students not only learn about this important commodity crop, they also develop an understanding of the challenges and complexity of modern farming,” said Dr. Karen Ballard, Extension developer and director of the program.

“The goal of the Arkansas Soybean Science Challenge is to engage students in “real world” education to support soybean production and agricultural sustainability,” said Gary Sitzer, chairman of the Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board. “The program also rewards scientific inquiry and discovery that supports the Arkansas soybean industry.”

The Arkansas Soybean Science Challenge was launched in January 2014 to 9-12 grade science students. Students who successfully completed the online course were eligible to have their original soybean-related research projects judged at the 2017 ISEF affiliated Arkansas science and engineering fairs.

Information on the 2017-18 Arkansas Soybean Science Challenge will be available in summer 2017. For more information, contact Dr. Karen Ballard at

The Cooperative Extension Service is part of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

Madeline Leicht: Arkansas Soybean Science Challenge Regional Winner – Arkansas School of Mathematics, Sciences, and the Arts – Dr. Patrycja Krakowiak, Teacher

Category: Plant Sciences

Project Title: “GMO Crop Dilemma: Are Genetic Modifications Spreading to Weeds?”


As the world population has grown, so too has the need for nourishment. In order to feed the growing population, more livestock, livestock feed, and crops need to be produced. In order to create more nutritious, resilient, and plentiful crops, scientists have been modifying plants genetically. Hybridization of plants occurs naturally as a way of increasing genetic diversity; therefore, it is possible for GMO genes to be spread to weeds from crops naturally. For this project DNA was isolated using a mortar and pestle. Once samples were combined with DNA free water and ground into a slurry, they were added to InstaGene matrix (BioRad) and incubated at 95°C for 5 minutes to incapacitate enzymes that would degrade DNA. The next step, was to amplify gene fragments present in approximately 85% of GMOs by polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Once amplified, the DNA fragments were separated by size using agarose gel electrophoresis, visualized using SybrSafe (Invitrogen) dye and analyzed using the UV filter of the GelDoc (BioRad) system. Because GMOs are currently widely used in agriculture and cross-breeding is possible between different plant species, GMO gene fragments will be found in some plants that grow near soybean fields in Arkansas. Based on results of this study that 50% of weed samples that surround soy fields in Arkansas contain GMO gene fragments (which is statistically higher than the expected lack of these sequences in plants other than crops), the hypothesis that cross-breeding would lead to GMO fragments in weeds was supported.

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