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Faculty and Staff

COVID Cooperation: Finding Freezer Space for Vaccines

Three female nurses standing next to a freezer.
From left, RNs Kathy Gutierrez, Katie Beasley and Tiffany Coggins, who administer coronavirus vaccines on the NC State campus, with the ultracold freezer on loan from new researcher Nathan Hostetter's lab.

An ultracold freezer that will someday store tissue samples from alligators, black bears and other wildlife is holding coronavirus vaccines at Student Health Services.

Researcher Nathan Hostetter, who joined the Department of Applied Ecology faculty in December, is pleased that the new -80 Celsius freezer took a detour on the way to his lab.

“The timing is perfect,” says Hostetter, an assistant unit leader with the North Carolina Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit.

An ultracold freezer for the Student Health Services Center was on backorder because of the global need for coronavirus vaccine storage. Both mRNA vaccines and wildlife tissue samples require ultracold storage to preserve genetic material.

Sharp-eyed staff members in university central receiving spotted the incoming freezer shipment and alerted Amy Orders, director of emergency management and mission continuity. Her staff contacted Carrie Baum-Lane, executive assistant in Applied Ecology, who asked Hostetter about a loan.

“It won’t affect my research at all,” says Hostetter, a 2016 NC State Ph.D. graduate who returned to the university after holding postdoctoral positions in Maryland and Washington state. “Our field projects will be getting off the ground at the earliest this summer, and we should have the freezer back in time for that.”

A man and his young son fishing
Nathan Hostetter, who recently joined the Department of Applied Ecology, and his son Wyatt fishing in a mountain trout stream. 

If not, colleagues in the David Clark Labs have promised to free up some space for his samples.

News of the loan at NC State triggered a national call for ultracold freezer sharing from the U.S. Geological Survey to its partners at science centers and cooperative units, says Tom Kwak, Applied Ecology professor and unit leader of the NC Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit.

“Unfortunately there aren’t that many because most people already have specimens in their freezers and they’re full, and they can’t really get along without them,” Kwak says. “This was kind of serendipitous timing that Nathan had ordered that freezer and that the Student Health Center heard about it.”

The freezer was purchased with federal start-up funds. Cooperative Research Units are a partnership among the U.S. Geological Survey and the host university, the state fish and wildlife agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Wildlife Management Institute. Unit scientists also serve in faculty roles at their host universities.