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Phil Sahm

Phone: 801-581-2517

Jun 03, 2014 3:36 PM

Nels C. Elde, Ph.D.
Nels C. Elde, Ph.D.

(SALT LAKE CITY)—Like many scientists, Nels C. Elde found his passion for discovery through the influence of teachers and mentors from high school, college, and graduate school who showed him the “messy, fun and exciting process” of scientific discovery.

After graduating in biology from Carleton College and then earning his Ph.D. in molecular genetics and cell biology from the University of Chicago, Elde embarked on a career that has established him as one of the nation’s promising early-career researchers in evolutionary and cellular biology, brought him to the University of Utah as an assistant professor in our renowned Department of Human Genetics and in 2012 landed him the honor of being named a Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences. As part of a series to introduce Pew scholars and explain the important work they do, the Pew Charitable Trust, which grants the awards, featured Elde in a video interview in May. The organization posted a video interview, “The Evolution of an Early Career Scientist,” in which he describes his research to understand human evolution at the cellular and molecular levels by studying the constant battle between cells and pathogens as each constantly adapts and changes to outsmart the other and survive. In science, this is known as the Red Queen Hypothesis – taken from the character in the Lewis Carroll fantasy “Through the Looking Glass” who states: ‘It takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place.’

In particular, Elde studies the vaccinia virus, which was used to eradicate smallpox, to understand how viruses have affected the evolution of the human immune system and cellular function. Ultimately, he wants to take what he learns about the adaptive responses of both the immune system and pathogens to find ways to develop vaccines that better protect people worldwide from disease.

Elde and 21 other scientists were named Pew Scholars in the Biomedical Sciences in 2012, each receiving $240,000 spread over four years to aid with their research and stretch the bounds of their work. To listen to Elde’s interview and learn more about one of the Health Sciences outstanding early career scientists, go to

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