Laura Moley, a Utah State University doctoral candidate from Kansas City, MO., studying animal molecular genetics, took third place for her research and presentation at the International Embryo Transfer Society’s annual conference in New Orleans.
“I’m looking at apoptosis, which is programmed death cells in pig clone embryos,” Moley said. “I’m going back and looking at DNA methylation patterns, which we think could go wrong in the cloning process, in which the DNA methylation then controls gene expression. I’m looking at differences in DNA methylation and gene expression in the embryos with high and low levels of apoptosis to hopefully be able to use that to pick the embryos that will be most successful following transfer to recipient sows because cloning is highly inefficient.”
In other words, Moley is working to improve the success rate in cloning pigs. She said successfully cloning animals is rare. In fact, cloning efficiency hasn’t improved much since the breakthrough with Dolly the sheep over 20 years ago. Increasing cloning success rates could save researchers time and money and it would become a more viable option for people in the livestock industry.
Moley is the primary student researcher on the project, but teamed up with professors and other graduate students in the Animal, Dairy and Veterinary Sciences Department to conduct the research with funding from the USDA.
The road to the competition in New Orleans started for Moley last July when she submitted her abstract on the study. Judges from The International Embryo Transfer Society select around 50 abstracts to enter the competition. Six are then selected, after which the student researchers are required to give a 12-minute presentation and a poster presentation at the conference.
Moley said the ADVS department gives student researchers opportunities to practice presentations, but when the best scientists in your field from around the world are watching, it can be a little scary – even when the work and the presentation were good enough to win an award. In a competition at this level, third place is a big deal.
“I have to remind myself of that because I’m a little bit of a perfectionist,” Moley said. “It felt good to represent Utah State and show what we are doing here.”
Moley came to USU with impressive undergraduate research experience said Clay Isom, associate professor in developmental genetics and epigenetics. Isom consulted regularly with Moley and saw her skills grow during her 4 years at USU, preparing her for award-winning research.
“It really puts us on the map nationally and internationally for having students like Laura, for the quality of her work, and presentations on these big scientific stages,” Isom said. “People from all over the world see the quality work that’s going on here.”
Isom said he was impressed with Moley’s perseverance in overcoming roadblocks during the study.
“People have this idea that science is just a straight shot, you test it, everything goes as planned and you write it up and it’s all beautiful,” Isom said. “It’s not always like that, as was the case in Laura’s project. We’re training these students to think critically and understand the curveballs when they come. That’s been a critical part of Laura’s project.”
Moley is preparing to defend her thesis and graduate this spring. She hopes to pursue research in human in vitro fertilization or exotic animal reproduction.