The Evolution of an Early-Career Scientist

The Evolution of an Early-Career Scientist


The website of 2012 Pew scholar Nels Elde quotes Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass: “It takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place.” The character speaking those words became the namesake for a leading idea in evolutionary science: the Red Queen hypothesis. It suggests that at the molecular level, organisms take up “arms races” against viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens — each evolving in response to the other’s adaptations just to survive.

In his laboratory at the University of Utah, Elde studies this evolutionary process using vaccinia virus, which was instrumental in eradicating smallpox.1 Armed with an award from the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences, he is able to take creative approaches in the quest to understand how pathogens shape cellular processes and also design more-effective vaccines.

Quick facts on Nels Elde

  • Named a Pew scholar in 2012.
  • Assistant professor at the University of Utah.
  • Investigates how infectious agents such as viruses interact with their hosts, and the changes that process can trigger in the function of cells.
  • Earned an undergraduate degree in biology from Carleton College in Northfield, MN.
  • Earned a doctoral degree in molecular genetics and cell biology from the University of Chicago.
  • Considers being named “Mr. Charming Beard 2013” by a coffee company one of his greatest personal achievements.

1 Donald A. Henderson and Bernard Moss, “Smallpox and Vaccinia,” in Vaccines, 3rd ed., ed. Stanley A. Plotkin and Walter A. Orenstein (Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders Co., 1999), 2,

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