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Graduate Researcher Excels in International Embryo Transfer Competition

by Bronson Teichert

Graduate Research

Laura Moley, who graduated this spring with a Ph.D. in animal molecular genetics, was awarded third place for her research and presentation at the International Embryo Transfer Society’s annual conference in March.

Moley’s work is focused on improving the success rate in cloning pigs because 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. 

“I’m looking at apoptosis, which is programmed death cells in pig clone embryos,” Moley said. “I’m looking at DNA methylation patterns, which we think could go wrong in the cloning process…I’m examining 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.”

Moley was the primary student researcher on the project, but teamed up with professors and other graduate students in the Department of Animal, Dairy and Veterinary Sciences to conduct the research with funding from the USDA. 

The road to Moley’s outstanding presentation began a year ago when she submitted her abstract on the study to judges from The International Embryo Transfer Society who selected about 50 abstracts for the competition. Six were then invited to give a 12-minute presentation and 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 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.”