Indiana State University Newsroom

Conservation biologist to return to her alma mater April 18

April 5, 2017

For biologist Marisa Korody, Indiana State University was the perfect size for her to find her niche in the college ecosystem and go off to flourish in her career.

Korody, GR '06, Ph.D, '13, is now working at the San Diego Zoo Global as a postdoctoral associate in conservation genetics. Her current project is developing assisted reproductive technologies for the critically endangered northern white rhino, including artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization and embryo transfer, using a sister species as a model species that may one day serve as surrogate mothers.

Korody will return to her alma mater to speak about her research at 7 p.m. April 18 in events area of Cunningham Memorial Library.

"It's always great when alumni come back to ISU to talk about what they are up to now. It shows our current students what you can achieve with an ISU degree," said Rusty Gonser, professor of biology and director of Indiana State's Center for Genomic Advocacy. "Marisa is on the cutting edge of conservation biology. The Frozen Zoo and the northern white rhino stem cell project are in itself interesting in combatting loss of diversity, as we are now in the sixth global extinction of animal species on the planet."

During her time as a student, Korody was able to work on a similar project with white-throated sparrow project at State - an experience that inspired Korody to seek a career with San Diego Zoo Global.

The sparrow project focused on differences in the behavior and genetics of the white-throated sparrow. This polymorphic species has chromosomal differences that are linked to behavioral differences, allowing her to examine the genetic basis for aggression, song and promiscuity.

"ISU was a good fit for me. I enjoyed the smaller campus, classes and biology department," Korody said. "I wouldn't have had nearly as good of an experience at a larger school where I would have been lost in the crowd or only saw my advisor once a quarter."

Currently, Korody and a team of biologists are working on a project called The Frozen Zoo, which is a collection of living cells that have been cryopreserved in suspended animation.

They have preserved the cell lines from about 10,000 individuals and more than 900 species and sub species. The goal is to save as much genetic diversity from animals now, before they are so endangered that they have lost that variability.

Korody's latest mission has been to use their findings from The Frozen Zoo in their preservation of the northern white rhino. The team is exploring alternatives, such as artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization and embryo transfer to develop northern white rhino embryos and implant them in female southern white rhinos at the San Diego Zoo. All of this can be achieved with the help of the DNA stored in The Frozen Zoo.

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park is the world's leader in white rhino breeding. However, the zoo population is no longer self-sustaining because of limited reproduction in females born at the institution and others around the globe.

Korody continues her research with the rhinos as well as the collection of DNA, blood and tissue samples of thousands of animals. These samples are valuable assets for researchers worldwide and can also be used for assisted reproduction of these organisms.

When Korody is not in the lab as a researcher, she is sharing her wealth of knowledge with other researchers and educators so that others can benefit from her work.

"We also hold workshops to teach our techniques to other researchers. The goal is to have other scientists starting their own biobanks around the world. There are species going extinct all the time, and we need to save as many as possible. By sharing our techniques with others we hope that many more species will be saved."

As both an educator and a scientist, Korody continues to expand her knowledge to best serve those around her. "You will never know everything, learning that and not being afraid to ask questions is important for success later."


Media contact: Libby Roerig, director of communications and media relations, Indiana State University, 812-237-3790 or

Story Highlights

Marisa Korody is working to develop assisted reproductive technologies for the critically endangered northern white rhino, including artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization and embryo transfer, using a sister species as a surrogate.

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