George Seidel, Jr., PhD

University Distinguished Professor, Department of Biomedical Sciences

Technology Impact

Dr. Seidel has spent his career at the forefront of bovine reproduction research, and even in retirement, continues to collaborate with other CSU researchers and test theories on his own herd of purebred and commercial Angus cattle.  Dr. Seidel has numerous technology achievements across his exemplary career, including:

  • founding the CSU Embryo Transfer Laboratory in 1973, one of the first commercial embryo-transfer laboratories in the world, building on the bovine semen collection services model created by Dr. Bill Pickett with the “Bull Farm”.   By the early 1980s, the laboratory was recognized for developing a simple, reliable procedure for bisecting embryos to produce identical twins in a variety of species.  Due to Dr. Seidel’s extensive work to simplify procedures, disseminate the use of the techniques, and train individuals in the methods, the laboratory’s commercial offerings were phased out as the training and dissemination program was so successful  these procedures could be done on the farm by any trained individual.
  • developing the processes for sex-sorting semen, a technology in common use today.  This technology was the basis for the CSU Startup company, XY Inc., founded in 1996 and acquired by STgenetics in 2007.
  • developing and testing numerous synchronization and artificial insemination protocols for beef and dairy cattle.
  • developing the Master of Science in Biomedical Sciences specialization in assisted reproductive technologies that provides expert IVF specialists for human and animal IVF clinics globally.

Dr. Seidel’s distinguished service to animal science includes pioneering technologies that are widely used to improve the quality of livestock throughout the world.

Thomas 'Tod' Hansen

Director of the Animal Reproduction and Biotechnology Laboratory (ARBL)

International Embryo Transfer Society (IETS) Distinguished Service Award

International Embryo Technology Society logo

Perspectives on Social and Career Impact 

Excerpts taken from an interview with Dr. Thomas Hansen, Director of the Animal Reproduction and Biotechnology Laboratory (ARBL) and the Equine Reproduction Laboratory and Dr. George Seidel, December 27, 2020; and with Jennifer Barfield, Assistant Professor and Director of the MS in Biomedical Sciences Assisted Reproductive Technologies Specialization program, January 7, 2021.  Interviews conducted by Sarah Hibbs-Shipp, CSURF.

The Backstory

“Let me just preface my story with the fact that I grew up on a family dairy farm.  And that kind of marks you for life.  You have to milk the cows twice a day, and you just have to do it.  If you don’t know any better, you are quite happy doing that.

I guess I was always pretty good in school – although I would say I didn’t have a lot of competition.  Growing up, I attended a one-room schoolhouse with a single teacher – eight grades, no electricity, no plumbing.  I attended Penn State in dairy cattle production.  And when I learned as an undergraduate that they would pay you to get a masters, I thought that was a heck of a deal.  And then it was a slippery slope from there – masters, PhD, post-doc and so on.  One thing led to another – it is not that I planned to do that or my family pushed me that way.  My mother only went to school for six years (eight grades in six years, so she was bright) and my father just had a high school education – so there was no academic push there.  Many farm kids get impressed with veterinarians, but that wasn’t a draw for me either.”

Philosophically About Myself

[In response to the prompt: You are considered an international leader in the field of cattle/equine embryo pre-implantation biotech, and your findings over the years revolutionized the industry.  Will you share your philosophy that brought you to work each day (even though you have stated that you have never “worked” a day in your life) to focus on practical/usable answers to fundamental questions?] 

“I read a lot.  I think I am a fairly good appreciator of good science.  So when I read papers, I get the implications and I think sometimes even better than the authors of the papers, what the plusses and minuses are.  I would also characterize myself as an opportunist.  I see what needs to be done, what resources are there, put the resources to use – much more than I have some focused goal that I want to get to.  Now it can evolve that way, but it is much more what needs to be done, what is out there, what resources do we have, what resources do we put together to do what needs to be done.  That is just the way I function, rather than being driven by a goal.  Sometimes it evolves that way – for sexed-semen for example we wanted to make it work, take it from a laboratory curiosity to something that worked; that became a goal.  But it started with what resources do we have, what can we put together, how can we do things.

For the most part, I just consider myself lucky – having been at the right place in the right time.  I have had good colleagues, students, and mentors. I cannot minimize my wife’s input as well. I think, for the most part, I get more credit than I deserve – sometimes less than I should, sometimes more – so it evens out.  I would say that one of my strengths, something that I have contributed, is more my publications – especially reviews, books, putting on conferences. That part is undervalued somewhat – people don’t really see some of that stuff.  I have done a lot of writing and putting things together.  I am a real appreciator of science.  I understand things and put that sort of stuff in writing or in a presentation – I write a lot, I have done a lot of speaking over the years all over the world.  I think I do that reasonably well – customizing it for the appropriate audience – that is important.  That is an important part of who I am.”

[comment by Dr. Thomas Hansen]  “What most people don’t know about George is that he is so giving; really giving of his time.  He helps people; he is an outstanding mentor not only to students, but to faculty, veterinarians, and others. He is always on the phone, he reads a lot, processes things, he can forecast – he is tremendously respected by many people.  George hates it when I do this, focus on his giving, but he mentioned that he is not getting rich off his technologies.  What he has done, in the background, with that money is made deals – “don’t give it to me, don’t put it in my wallet – give it back to the programs”.  With that money, he has created two fairly substantial programs – one is to bridge faculty that have lost their funding in large animal reproduction research so that they can generate preliminary data for a new federal grant award, and the second is to support translational biotechnology – such as provide a cost share for new funding if [faculty] need one (like with the FUEL program at CSU Ventures that disburses the State of Colorado Advanced Industries funding which requires a funding match – this program is one faculty can apply to for the match for the funding award). These funds could have gone directly into George’s pocket, but instead he directed that money back into these programs to support faculty and science.”

“I have never worked a day in my life”

[In response to the prompt:  You once characterized your efforts across your career as “… [having] never worked a day in my life”.  Would you expand on that idea and share with us your perspectives on “working” and how that has changed over the years in academia?] 

“When I am doing income tax – it is work.  In terms of academics, however, I feel academicians are really lucky.  In many cases, they are doing what they like to do, for the most part.  Relative to most people in their jobs and what they have to do – we have a good deal.  So, I am theoretically retired – it is not working.  I still do about a half-time job with the University, with reviewing papers, writing manuscripts, letters of recommendation and giving occasional lectures and so on.

It is much more difficult being a new assistant professor now than it was years ago.  There are more pressures.  Although there are now startup packages – those didn’t exist when I started; it takes a lot to get going.  But when you do get going, you are still doing what you like to do.  And, unfortunately, there is a huge over-emphasis on getting grants and so on.

 

[In response to the prompt:  What are your thoughts on the perception that there is a fundamental bias or honesty difference in industry vs academic research, having experienced working with both sectors?] 

For me there is good science and not-so-good science.  Whether you are coming at a problem to find out why it happens that way versus solving a known problem – you are just coming at the same thing from different angles.  From an industry standpoint – you want to get a product so you do the experiments you need to get a product.  From a basic research standpoint, you start with an idea and do some research, and you may end up with the product.  One still needs to do sound experiments regardless of the goal.  You just basically have to not lie to yourself – do good experiments, accumulate information, and then interpret that information appropriately.

I don’t believe that we “prove” that something is true with good science.  We simply see if something is true or is not true.  By doing science experiments correctly, the data will speak to the truth.  It is risky science to build the answer into the scientific design.  The real trick, the real difficulty, is to not lie to yourself.  If you lie to yourself, especially from a commercial research standpoint, you end up with products that are not going to be as good as they could be, and maybe even be a liability.  So, in some sense, and in some spheres, it is even more important to do good research in a commercial sense.  The greater the potential for harm, the greater the consequence.   You can’t escape from the need to do good science – which includes sound premises, reproducibility/replication, randomization, understanding of and minimization of biases, and appropriate analyses.”

The Embryo Transfer Laboratory

[In response to the prompt: Was it a normal thing to do – for an academic to run a commercial lab in the 70’s?  Will you share how that happened – from being an academic where you had funding to deciding to start a commercial lab?] 

“The State of Colorado has never really supported graduate education and research.  It just doesn’t.  That has plusses and minuses – since they never gave anything, they couldn’t take anything away either.  When I started, the University didn’t have a whole lot of funding, so we had to cobble things together.  I would say I have been pretty good at cobbling things together – getting some resource here, another resource there, taking advantage of what’s available, including getting the “gold standard” NIH and USDA grants, and a lot of other things, too.

It seems to me that entrepreneurial aspects characterized CSU – that really was true historically. The first PhD given at CSU, that I know of, was to A.R. Chamberlin, who ended up being president of the University – he was in engineering, and he was very entrepreneurial and encouraged that sort of thing.  My principal mentor at CSU was Dr. Bill Pickett, and he was quite entrepreneurial and ran what was known as the “bull farm”.  You need to read the book that Bill Pickett wrote – “Sex, Science, and Society”.  In the late 60’s and early 70’s, he set up a semen collection service for ranchers and dairy farms in Colorado which was very successful.  At one time, we had over 1000 head of cattle in the embryo transfer program. We partly got lucky – we were at the right place at the right time.

My setting up the embryo transfer laboratory was just building on the bull farm model.  And it continues today with what is done at the Equine Reproduction Lab.  It is not so different from a clinic at a medical school or a clinic at the Vet Teaching Hospital, a bit different but in some ways the same philosophy.  We [the embryo transfer lab] were competing with some veterinarians with the technology at that point, but way ahead of most of them.  As an example, we [my mentors, administrators, and myself] invited state legislators to see what we were doing – preempting complaints from private industry that we were competing against them unfairly and so on.  We put pieces together where we were educating students, providing a service, doing research.

I would say that over a decade, we took in $10 million dollars in fees and so on.  We spent ten and a half million, but that was a lot of money in those days.  And, in fact, we had a lot of flexibility with that funding and, as academics, we were fairly altruistic about things – maybe more so than would be true at the current time.  We had a system where we were connecting farmers and researchers and basic research, farmers and students; a package that just fit together that was a bit unusual.”

Creating the Masters Specialization in Assisted Reproductive Technologies

[In response to the prompt:  Was the training and experience received in the Embryo Transfer Lab integral in moving students out to non-academic jobs, or did most of the students stay in academia?]

“We had a whole spectrum. In fact, the majority of my graduate and post-doctoral students run human in-vitro fertilization labs – they are in charge of laboratories and do very well.  They are paid very well and do very well – we have a big demand for that.  In fact, we developed the 1-year specialization masters program for training embryologists; Dr. Barfield and Dr. Graham are in charge of that – those students are in tremendous demand.  We have more than 20 a year, and many of them have jobs before they complete the program.”

[Comment by Dr. Thomas Hansen]  “To clarify – the idea for the masters specialization in assisted reproductive technologies was from George.  And it has been, like he said, a tremendously successful program. I attribute that to George’s thoughts – he has talked to me about this over the past ten years a lot.  He mentioned that most of human IVF clinics are headed by his people and people he trained.  That’s a real feather in his cap, and in ARBL’s cap over time to see these students be so successful.”

[comment by Dr. Jennifer Barfield] “Dr. Seidel was always one of those people who would seed ideas, at least for me, where I had assumed something was not possible, and he would push me to realize that it was possible – that you just had to do it and do the work.  He is the reason that I ended up staying at CSU.  He taught me that if I was not finding what I wanted out in the world, then I should work to create it myself – make it happen.  The Master of Science in Biomedical Sciences 1-year specialization in Assisted Reproductive Technologies was George’s idea, and was part of this idea of working to create a profession/job opportunity that I would enjoy.  He was getting calls/emails every day from companies looking for embryologists – they needed experienced people to run IVF clinics.  He said “there needs to be someone to train them, and we have the ability to do this – you can do this, you can train them.  If you want to do this, let’s put together a program.”  And so we did.  Now we are 7 years in, we have graduated over 100 trained specialists.  We have clinics coming to us and asking for our graduates before they put job postings out.  That is what George does.  He pays attention, sees opportunities, knows how seize them and put the right people in the right places to achieve amazing outcomes. “

Perspectives on Technology Transfer and the CSU Startup, XY LLC

[In response to the prompt: True technology transfer is about creating something that can be used by the public – in modern times, this is done through efforts to protect intellectual property with patents.  Your journey wtth technology transfer started in a different way, however.  Would you expand on the early days in the Embryo Transfer Lab?] 

“In the early days, back at the Embryo Transfer Lab, we were, in many ways, the antithesis of patenting. We told everybody everything.  We had many dozens of people, maybe even hundreds, come from all over the world to visit us – sometimes for a day or two, sometimes for a year.  We became known as the place to learn these things, the place where accurate information was coming from, and it is partly because we had so much experience – we collected and transferred about 6,000 embryos during that period.  You learn what works and what doesn’t work.

I have really wide interests, so there was also quite a bit of basic research that went into the daily operations of the Embryo Transfer Lab.  What we learned from that basic research informed some of what we did.”

[You had such wide dissemination and transfer of skills to the greater world that you put yourself out of business.  This is not a viable commercial strategy, but in some ways, the core of the land-grant university model.  How do you think this (dissemination of information/skills) has evolved over the years?]

“In some ways, this has become more formalized.  You can do the same thing with venture capital, spin-off companies, etc.  We repeated this model in a different way with sex-semen.  Things are more formalized in terms of paying attention to intellectual property, patenting, licensing, startup companies.  This accomplishes the same kinds of things [dissemination of skills, information] and on a grand scale, probably more effectively.  Clinics at medical schools and veterinary teaching hospitals are also along the continuum of this sort of thing.

With the sexed-semen, we did it completely differently, in that for the embryo transfer lab, we didn’t need a lot of capital for the infrastructure that we couldn’t cobble together at the University.  For the sexed-semen idea, we needed a lot more capital and resources.  So there we went after venture capital and formed a startup company, XY, Inc.  This was the first (and maybe only) company owned by CSURF and so we all learned a lot about what that means.  At one point, the startup provided quite a bit of income to CSURF, and eventually CSURF divested ownership entirely.  It was a different way of doing things. 

Due to the way the startup company was set up, I and the other faculty inventors never had any direct financial interest in the company (no stock or ownership), although indirectly I did get quite a bit of university funding through contracts and royalties as the inventor and expert on the technology.  To this day, I still receive a small amount of income indirectly from the technology.  The only challenge with that was that if you do not have any financial interest in a company, you have no say in what the company does and so you are the mercy of the stockholders of the company.  Once CSURF divested ownership to the venture capital group, those challenges became real.  However, that was what we set out to do, and it accomplished what we needed to do – raise sufficient capital to successfully commercialize the technology – it was out there, it was usable, and it turned into a huge, huge industry.  It made some people very wealthy.”

What is the Patent you are most proud of?

“So, the original patent was that you could get cows pregnant with many fewer sperm than were used conventionally.  It turned out that concept was patentable and it formed the basis of the company XY Inc.  The whole industry is based on that foundational piece of intellectual property, that one patent.  And for truth in advertising, the majority of the rest of the patents that make up many of my patent portfolio – across many of the patent families – they are of no value whatsoever from an invention perspective, although they are quite valuable from a business perspective.

I was never turned on by getting a patent; the patent part is not important to me. I understand the necessity for it – these days it is necessary and important to protect your intellectual property, develop it – one of the ways to get that done is to patent it and license it.  The whole National Academy of Inventors is based on that, and it goes all the way back to the U.S. Constitution– where it was recognized that there is some value in protecting intellectual property and people that come up with ideas should be able to benefit from them.  But also that there should be some mechanism to get them out there to be useful.  That was just not something that drove me to get a patent.  It is cool to have a patent, but for me, that was not a driving motivation to invent.”

On Mentoring & Collaborating

[comments by Dr. Jennifer Barfield]  “I started at CSU in 2007 with George as my post-doc advisor.  I had almost no prior work with embryos or cattle, and I had no idea who I was agreeing to work with.  I really liked him during my interview, I liked the questions he asked – I was just really impressed with him as a person and his kind and inquisitive nature and desire to know me and the work I was doing, what I was interested in and where I wanted to go.  When he was retiring, I was the only post doc in the lab, and there was a PhD student that had been there longer than I had, and he sat us down and said “I have to leave for a month or two and I can’t have any interaction – it’ s just part of the retirement process.  I want you guys to do x, y, and z, but, you know – have fun.”  And that has always stuck with me that I should be enjoying what I am doing.  George had that type of attitude and it really permeated the lab – it set a positive tone for productivity and collaboration, and the teamwork that was required to get all the work done that we had to do.

I learned all about embryos and embryo transfer in George’s lab.  And, of course, many of those technologies and techniques were developed in his lab.  It is impossible for me to believe that if I had not walked into his lab and received his guidance and training, I would not have been able to do some of the pioneering reproductive work with bison nor begin a new conservation herd.  George was so flexible in the lab to let me ask questions and explore possibilities in bison due to my wildlife conservation interest; he respected my interests and supported them as much as he could. And then he respected me enough to step back and let me go on my own to build my reputation and program – which he did gracefully and so supportively.  I cannot imagine that this project would have been successful without his support – he was an invaluable source of inspiration and resources and expertise on this project.

Not only is Dr. Seidel a reputable scientist, he is highly respected due to his open nature, his willingness to collaborate, his unrelenting honesty – be it good or bad – about a project and what he views as the impacts of the project; those qualities have made him highly respected across a number of scientific communities.  His ability to talk to people and explain the science, to inspire, to stimulate interest in a project, even if far-fetched – it allowed him to bring together diverse people and resources to make what one might have considered an “out-of-reach” projects happen.  As someone who works with George, what is incredible is that he is not protective of all the networks he has developed and nurtured – he is willing to share all of his resources, all of his knowledge, his time to work with you.  These qualities have made not only him more successful, but all of those that surround him more successful.

To this day, George will call me and say “have you thought about this”, or he sends me papers “You should read this”; it is incredibly valuable.  The impact of those small gestures, and I am sure he does this for others, is tremendous for me personally, and for our network, and the reproductive community as a whole – whether your specialty is animal or human reproductive science.  Many of his former students and post-docs run some of the biggest IVF clinics in the country.  He was instrumental in founding the International Embryo Technology Society – a global network of people to do this work, which will be celebrating its 50th anniversary soon.  It would not surprise me at all, if during the annual dinner, you asked everyone to stand up that had collaborated or engaged with George in some way – if more than half the room stood up, and this is a global audience.  You can count papers or dollars to measure his impact, but his impact on people and the reproductive science network is much bigger than either of those.

When you become a mentor to students, you do tend to emulate those that had the most positive impact on you.  Dr. Seidel is that person for me.  I can see how I have tried to weave those qualities that I most admire in him into my mentoring – being supportive, pushing students to think about what their true interests are – what they really want and will enjoy doing for many years.  As a post-doc, what I really admired about him was that I felt like he respected my opinion, he wanted to hear what I thought, he took me seriously – even though there were times he would say “that doesn’t make sense, not going to work, not a good idea” – far more often he wanted to hear what I thought, what I thought would be a good idea. It felt truly collaborative, and not a situation of “I work for this person and he tells me what to do.””

Turning Science Fiction into Fact

[In response to the prompt:  When you went into science – did you ever think that someday, you would be characterized as having “brought science fiction into science fact”?] 

“I never envisioned that I would “turn science fiction into fact” or aimed to do that.  It just happened.  Science is amazing.  Polymerase Chain Reaction, the new molecular techniques, CRISPR-Cas9 – it is truly amazing what we can do now.  When I read the first PCR paper – I immediately picked up the value of that – I questioned some colleagues and asked them if I was “all-wet” or if this was truly amazing.  Some of it isn’t razzle dazzle but is just as important – for instance the COVID-19 vaccines.  That stuff built on decades of basic research and you put the pieces together and you can do something remarkable so quickly.  In a year, and it works.  There are many of those things – a lot of what we use routinely is Nobel prize stuff over the decades.

 

[In response to prompt – what do you see as the next scientific frontier – your hypothesis for what we might learn in the next 50-100 years?] 

It turns out that life is so much more complicated than we thought.  How does the genetic material in a sperm and an egg turn into a baby or a calf?  We are learning a lot about that – but there is so much more to know about that question.  It could come to, thinking 50 to 100 years from now, where it is unethical to reproduce normally if you can do it artificially with less debilitation, increase healthy offspring.  We are doing a whole lot more of that than people realize.  For example in human IVF, one ends up with more embroys than one can use.  There are millions in frozen storage that are not going anywhere.  These days, one selects the embryo from a “litter” – one is actually doing eugenics there whether one likes it or not, picking embryos that do not have genetic defects.  At the same time, we are selecting for more traits than one would think, including sex in some cases.  The ethics of those things – that is a whole different topic.

And there are some rather mundane things that are important; one of the things that I personally spent a lot of money on, is what we call our “all-heifer no-cow beef systems”.  Where you basically breed heifers to have heifer calves – so each female replaces herself.  Once she has done that, the heifer can go into the beef-meat market system.  But it turns out that system, it enables beef productions for about 30% fewer resources – 30% less methane produced, 30% less water use, less energy – less everything.  In a way, that is mundane, but in another way it is profound.  I do not think that is being used widely – and I think that is because it is not more profitable than conventional systems (not less profitable either) – but it is more ecologically sound.  If it was more profitable, it would be easier to change the system.  We have a couple of publications on this, and so, maybe it will evolve.

I tend to do a lot of theoretical thinking as well – one concept I have been working on for the last half-decade, is to consider why the species doesn’t go down hill genetically over time.  We are constantly being bombarded with UV radiation, peroxidation, all kinds of things.  How does the germ line, how do the sperm and eggs, stay as good as they do – why don’t they degenerate over time?  Turns out they do, but there are mechanisms to correct the degeneration.  I may be getting way off the subject – but we have a lot of Canadian geese in Fort Collins, and they likely look and function like Canadian geese did two centuries ago.  But – their genetics are probably not the same – because of mutations of all sorts.  So – my broad conclusion for all that, is there is probably more than one way to make a goose, but it still makes the same goose that fits the environment.

Another futuristic idea is exploiting sexual dimorphism in animal agriculture.  So males grow more efficiently than females – they are good for making meat.  In some species, females are larger than males, like rabbits – but in many the males are larger.  I think there is a whole new paradigm in animal breeding by paying attention to that and building on sexual dimorphism in such a way as to make much more efficient systems in animal agriculture. How do you use that information – how much genetic information is there.  That if very theoretical – but it is one of the systems I am working on when I am not doing other things.

I wrote about cultured meat/alternative meat products about 20 years ago.  Our current alternative meat products are not, frankly, all that nutritious – they are fat and salt and chemicals – they may taste good but aren’t really nutritious.  A lot of that is exploited with an incomplete understanding of how animal agriculture can fit in with plant agriculture.  That is evolving though – I think they will get the plant-based meat substitutes better with time.”

Select Issued and Published Patents (in families)

 

*Assignee XY, LLC
**Joint Assignees:  XY, LLC & Colorado State University Research Foundation

Patent list generated using Google Patents; Last updated on January 10, 2020

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