Galloping to Greatness: Meet Kurt the First Cloned Przewalski’s Horse

Kurt the first cloned Przewalsk'si horse
Kurt the foal at the Texas veterinary facility of ViaGen Equine collaborator, Timber Creek Veterinary, August 28, 2020.
Photo provided courtesy of Scott Stine.

On August 6, 2020, the first successfully cloned Przewalski’s horse was born at the Texas-based veterinary facility, Timber Creek Veterinary, along with a new hope for restoring some much-needed genetic diversity to the species. The successful birth of this foal is the culmination of the collaborative efforts between Revive & Restore, San Diego Zoo Global (SDZG), and ViaGen Equine, and lays the groundwork as an important model for future conservation efforts.

The new Przewalski’s foal (pronounced “shuh-VAL-skees”) has been affectionately dubbed Kurt, in honor of noted animal conservationist, geneticist and pathologist, Dr. Kurt Benirschke. Dr. Benirschke played an instrumental role in founding the Frozen Zoo®, a genetic library comprised of cryopreserved cell lines of endangered species. Established in the 1970s, this collection was built on a foundation of prescient hope, banking on the future development of reproductive and cloning technologies that did not yet exist.

Now thanks to his foresight, that gamble is paying off and the fruits of that labor are literally being brought to life almost 50 years later through Kurt the foal, who is as adorable as he is important to the future of his kind.

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mRNA Vaccines for COVID-19: The Promise and Pitfalls

Multiple battles are being fought in the war against the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Currently, there are nearly 3,000 clinical trials listed in the World Health Organization (WHO) database, either underway or in the recruiting stage, for vaccines and antiviral drugs. Two recent announcements of data from phase 3 vaccine trials, by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, have offered some hope for global efforts to fight the pandemic. At the time of writing, Pfizer and BioNTech had submitted an application for emergency use authorization (EUA) to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and Moderna had planned to do so shortly.

mrna vaccines and coronavirus covid-19

Both vaccines are mRNA-based, as opposed to most conventional vaccines against established diseases that are protein-based. Typically, the key ingredient in viral vaccines is either part of an inactivated virus, or one or more expressed proteins (antigens) that are a part of the virus. These protein antigens are responsible for eliciting an immune response that will fight future infection by the actual virus. Another approach is to use a replication-deficient viral vector (such as adenovirus) to deliver the gene encoding the antigen into human cells. This method was used for the coronavirus vaccine developed by Oxford University in collaboration with AstraZeneca; phase 3 interim data were announced on the heels of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna announcements. All three vaccines target the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, because it is the key that unlocks a path of entry into the host cell.

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Reflections on Virtual Conference Life: Can You Hear Me?

Today’s guest blog is written by Research Scientist Danette Daniels, PhD.

Virtual Conference Presentation

One of my favorite things about being a scientist is attending conferences. They are an opportunity to connect with the broader community, share ideas, talk about the future, and get inspired. After a conference I would return to my lab feeling so energized and excited, being motivated to push the research forward and work on the next stories we could share.

In March of this year, I remember my shock of watching the conferences slowly getting canceled one by one. First, it was everything in March and April, then May, then through to August.  I was in denial at the time, thinking this would be temporary and that we would all be back together in person in a few months. Then it became quite clear this would not be the case and events were transitioning to a virtual format.

Virtual! I was so skeptical. How could you connect with anyone at a virtual conference? How are people going to ask questions after a talk? How will it be to give a talk basically to your computer, not knowing who is listening, or more importantly for me, not being able to read the audience? I was not looking forward to it, but the alternative, no conferences at all, I thought was worse.

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Three Pillars of ESI Mastery: Part One

“If You Only Knew Who You Were…”

Today’s blog is written by Malynn Utzinger, Director of Integrative Practices, and Tim Weitzel, ESI Architect.

We are a little nervous writing about Emotional & Social Intelligence (ESI) “mastery.” This makes it sound like we think it is possible to become perfect at emotional and social intelligence when our actual position on the matter is more about progress than perfection. 

We’re reminded of a quote from a wise teacher. Upon turning 90 he was asked, “What’s one of the most important lessons you have learned in your 90 years?” He replied, “That we are all a mixed bag.” 

No one is perfect. We all have strengths and we all have areas to grow, and we all always will. But the progress we make and its impact on our lives is so worth the effort.

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iGEM in a Pandemic: Reflecting on Human Practices

Today’s blog is written by the University of Copenhagen iGEM Team.


The International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition has 257 teams of students competing this year. Despite all of the unique difficulties we’re all facing in 2020, the University of Copenhagen is competing once again. This year’s project involves a unique approach to Chronic Inflammatory Diseases (CIDs).

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Lessons in History, Hope and Living with Lynch Syndrome from the “Daughter of Family G”

Lynch Syndrome is the autosomal dominant hereditary predisposition to develop colorectal cancer and certain other cancers. This simple, one sentence definition seems woefully inadequate considering the human toll this condition has inflicted on the families that have it in their genetic pedigree.

They Called it a Curse

To one family, perhaps the family when it comes to this condition, Lynch Syndrome has meant heartache and hope; grief and joy; death and life. Their story is told by Ami McKay in her book Daughter of Family G, and it is at once both a memoir of a Lynch Syndrome previvor (someone with a Lynch Syndrome genomic mutation who has not yet developed cancer) and a poignant and honest account of the family that helped science put name to a curse.

“The doctors called it cancer. I say it’s a curse. I wish I knew what we did to deserve it.”

Anna Haab from Daughter of Family G (1)

The scientific community first met “Family G” as the meticulously created family tree, filled with the stunted branches that mark early deaths by cancer. The pedigree was first published in 1913 in Archives of Internal Medicine (2). In the article, Dr. Alderd Warthin wrote: “A marked susceptibility to carcinoma exists in the case of certain family generations and family groups.” In 1925, an expanded pedigree of circles and squares was published in Dr. Warthin’s follow up study in the Journal of Cancer Research (3).  But each circle and square in that pedigree denotes a person. Each line represents their dreams together for the future, and Ms. McKay wants us to know their names: Johannes and Anna, Kathrina, Elmer, Tillie, Sarah Anne (Sally); and—most importantly—Pauline. Because without Pauline there would be no story.

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7 Tips for Creating an Individual Development Plan

Today’s guest blog is written by Jayme Miller, a Human Resources Generalist at Promega, who has some tips for creating an IDP that will help you achieve your goals. Individual Development Plans (IDPs) are common career development tools used in industry, and there has been a push for PhD programs to incorporate career development tools such as IDPs. By creating an IDP, employees and students both have a formal way to communicate their career goals and help them stay on track.

There is one question I am frequently asked by candidates during the interview process—“Is employee development a focus at this organization?” Employees frequently tell me they are looking for employers and opportunities where they will have the ability to learn, grow and develop. While that all sounds great, it is important to have an upfront and transparent discussion about roles, responsibilities and expectations when it comes to employee development.

Many organizations indicate that they have an employee development “program” at their organization, but when they begin talking about their program, they describe their performance management process. Often, they will describe how employees are evaluated and provided feedback from their manager. Feedback is a key component for employee development, but it is up to the employee to use that feedback to create action items that will give them the opportunity to learn and grow.  

Often employees believe that employee development is something provided by companies to employees, that it is something that employers make happen for employees. Good organizations will offer continuous learning opportunities and a feedback culture that allows employees to learn and grow. However, no employee development program will work for an employee who is not fully engaged in their own development and does not take ownership over the process. It is ultimately the employee’s responsibility to ensure they are actively taking the steps to develop within their role and within their organization.  

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Social Distancing: Taking a Lesson from Creatures Big and Small

For many of us, the current SARS-CoV-2 pandemic means working from home. For many, working from home means being away from human companionship that’s normally part of our work lives. While my four-legged office mates are quiet and do not require meetings, they are no substitute for human coworkers.

How about you? In our socially distanced world, do you find strength in the knowledge that others are also self-isolating to stay healthy?

What if I told you that numerous animal species, lobsters to mongoose, ants to mandrills, all practice social distancing to avoid infectious agents? Here are a few examples.

Image of banded mongoose family group.
Banded mongoose family group.
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New Human Pluripotent Stem Cell-Derived Model For SARS-CoV-2 Research

influenza viruses

Months into the COVID-19 pandemic, we still have limited knowledge of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and no effective treatment or vaccine. A major obstacle for scientists trying to understand the SARS-CoV-2 virus is the lack of appropriate cell models. Most of the studies published so far are based on cancer cell lines or animal models that have been engineered to express the human SARS viral entry receptor—ACE2. However, there are a many limitations to using these as models for studying human virus infection:

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How To Reopen Your Lab With Sustainability In Mind

If you’re preparing to return to the lab for the first time in months, there’s never been a better time to make your lab more sustainable.

Earlier this year, the COVID-19 pandemic forced thousands of labs to temporarily shut down. As restrictions are lifted in many areas, scientists are slowly resuming research. However, reopening a lab after months of closure will require a lot of cleaning and organizing, much like a fresh start. This presents a valuable opportunity to evaluate your lab’s practices and identify ways that you can reduce your environmental impact.

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