The Hormel Institute COVID-19 Response

The Hormel Institute Research Continues During COVID-19

New CryoEM project aimed at understanding coronavirus

The Hormel Institute has been adapting to many changes since the COVID-19 “stay at home” order was mandated in Minnesota. As part of University of Minnesota, The Hormel Institute follows guidelines set forth by the Board of Regents, President Joan Gabel, Vice President for Research Dr. Chris Cramer, and a COVID-19 task force team who follow State of MN mandates.

Despite the building being closed to all but essential research projects and employees, progress in the quest to find answers to cancer and disease at The Hormel Institute continues albeit in creative ways.

“I appreciate how our university, faculty, researchers, and support staff have met these challenges,” said Dr. Ann M. Bode, Interim Executive Director.

“Working remotely when possible, developing new work schedules and plans to minimize threat to essential workers while creatively meeting responsibilities to further our mission.”

Cancer research projects that are essential continue, with scientists in labs working on projects that must continue but using safety measures such as social distancing in the lab and wearing facemasks. New research projects are temporarily on hold as scientists have been requested to work from home. Some brought instruments such as microscopes home with them to continue their research, while they also virtually attend and present seminars via Zoom and other platforms and pursue research through the tremendous job of data analysis, grants and writing articles for publication.

One new project is underway and dedicated to COVID-19.  Dr. Bin Liu is utilizing the Institute’s CryoEM, a Titan Krios considered one of the world’s most powerful electron microscopes, to study the structure of COVID-19. The Hormel Institute UMN is one of only a few research centers in the United States with CryoEM technology and has a growing group of expert structural biologists who use it. Dr. Liu’s project is supported by a COVID-19 Rapid Response Grant given by UMN’s College of Medicine.

“We are trying to understand the replication/transcription mechanism in COVID-19 virus by determining CryoEM structures of the relevant protein complexes, which will benefit our understanding of how this virus replicates/transcribes RNA and the development of effective antiviral drugs,” said Dr. Bin Liu, head of the Transcription and Gene Regulation lab.

“This will help with the development of effective antiviral drugs and we hope to publish our preliminary data in a publication to share with scientists around the world.”

The Hormel Institute has also been working to find ways to support the community during this difficult time. A few ways The Hormel Institute has been involved with medical care personnel, businesses and colleagues from across the community, include:

  • Connecting The Hormel Institute cancer research donors to help combat COVID-19 in the medical community. For example helping Absolute Energy, a major ethanol plant, partner with Mayo Clinic to provide hundreds of gallons of hand sanitizer. Assisting another company associated with The Hormel Institute, Kapra Cosmetics, which also donated hand sanitizer to Mayo Clinic.
  • Providing Austin Public Schools (and any other interested schools) with teaching videos produced by The Hormel Institute’s scientists about science and research for students now studying remotely. The videos are appropriate for each grade level from pre-school/K through high school.
  • Supporting area business with orders/purchases that are standard but would be more timely during COVID-19 when their businesses may be economically compromised.

To read and see from more from The Hormel Institute’s faculty and staff on what their research and work looks like during the COVID-19 crisis, visit