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2014 Predoctoral Researchers


Shuonan He

Peking University in Beijing
Gibson Lab
Functional analysis of Hox genes in the starlet sea anemone, Nematostella vectensis

Shuonan He will long remember his 21st birthday. On that June night in 2013, a fire broke out at Peking University in Beijing and devastated the fish facility where he worked. He, who was studying developmental biology in a zebrafish lab there, recalls watching online coverage of exhausted fellow students covered in ashes working to salvage their experiments.

After an initial period of shock, He and his lab mates banded together over the next several months to reconstruct the lab and re-establish lost zebrafish lines. In retrospect, He credits the disaster with making him a more thoughtful scientist: it solidified his intention to make research his career, and—with his experiments temporarily curtailed—he had more time to attend seminars and learn about fields different from his own. 

In July of 2014, He received his bachelor’s degree in biological science. His work, in which he characterized genes required for heart development, earned him authorship on a 2014 paper published in Nature Communications.

He is fascinated by the fact that fish can regrow lost heart tissue while mammals cannot. His curiosity about regeneration led He to papers from the lab of Stowers Investigator Alejandro Sánchez Alvarado exploring flatworm regeneration. That work, and the high quality of investigators doing developmental biology research, prompted He to apply to the Stowers Graduate School. On his interview visit, He was astounded by the science being conducted as well as the atmosphere of collegiality, two influential factors in his decision to join the program.