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Hal Holmes

PhD Institution: University of Washington Class: 2018 Fellow Postdoctoral institution and lab:

Vlaisavljevich Lab, Virginia Tech

Specialism: Bioengineering


Hal is an engineer determined to use science to tackle the illegal trade in endangered species products. With a PhD in bioengineering, Hal is now working in a cancer research laboratory with Dr Eli Vlaisavljevich at Virginia Tech on ultra-sound based technology to advance techniques to effectively extract DNA from timber samples.

When combined with his previous work, where he developed a battery-powered, hand-held, DNA ‘barcode scanner’ for use by wildlife protection and customs officers in the field to rapidly and accurately identify animal and timber products, this work has the potential to revolutionize the battle against illicit trade in endangered species.

Hal’s work has the potential for impact on a genuinely planetary scale. The illegal trade in endangered species is worth an estimated $100bn a year and is contributing to the human-induced mass extinction that is devastating not just the amazing ecosystems of our planet but also the human societies that rely on them.

Hal has been named a Moore Inventor Fellow, the first not-for-profit innovator to be recognized by that program. The Moore support will enable Hal to pursue the development of his invention over the next three years with Conservation X Labs.

Dr Holmes completed his PhD in bioengineering with Professor Karl Böhringer at the University of Washington creating a DNA barcoding platform for conservation and species identification, to help detect poaching and protect global biodiversity. With the Vlaisavlijevich Lab, Dr Holmes will be taking this effort to an unlikely source – a cancer research laboratory – to study an ultra-sound based technology used in cancer therapy that could potentially also be used for the extraction of DNA from timber tissue.


Read Hal’s perspective on collaboration and partnership – ‘Collaborating across boundaries: the power to change the world’

In November 2018, Hal was announced as one of just five 2018 Moore Inventor Fellows by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. He is is the first not-for-profit and the first conservationist to be named an Inventor Fellow. Read more.