Golden Goose Awards: 3 Bizarre Scientific Discoveries That Unexpectedly Benefited Society

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Discoveries involving a laboratory accident, poisonous snails and a paper scientific instrument are some of the obscure, bizarre or convoluted findings breakthroughs honored Wednesday with awards that celebrate research that ultimately had a significant, albeit unexpected, impact on society.

Three teams of scientists have won the 2022 Golden Goose Awards, an award organized by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, for their research projects that turned into “wait, what?” moments to pioneering breakthroughs.

“The Golden Goose Award reminds us that potential discoveries could be lurking around every corner and illustrates the benefits of investing in basic research to propel innovation,” said Sudip S. Parikh, AAAS CEO and executive editor of the Science family of journals. .

Here are this year’s award-winning discoveries, which illuminate the unpredictable path of science and the benefits of investing in research that might not immediately pay off.

More than a decade ago, Manu Prakash, a bioengineer at Stanford University, was in the Thai jungle on a field trip for his rabies research when he came up with the idea for a microscope. cheap and easy to use.

“I saw this $50,000 microscope in a jungle in the middle of nowhere, locked in a room. It was an ironic moment. I could see immediately that it was the wrong tool,” said said Prakash, an associate professor and senior fellow at the university’s Woods Institute for the Environment.

Why has this essential scientific equipment that could help diagnose devastating diseases like malaria not been used? It was bulky and difficult to transport, required training to operate, and was difficult to maintain. As delicate and expensive as the instrument is, even skilled technicians can feel nervous about using it, Prakash explained.

Prakash envisioned an inexpensive microscope that could be used by anyone anywhere but was powerful enough to see a single bacterium. Together with his colleague Jim Cybulski, Prakash invented the Foldscope – a flat paper microscope and a single spherical lens.

“It took an immense amount of engineering. In this first phase, I was sitting next to labs with million-dollar microscopes. We wanted to make a microscope at a price of $1.

People initially thought the idea was a bit silly, Prakash said, and getting funding for the work was a challenge.

Fast forward to 2022. The Foldscope isn’t as cheap as a dollar, but at a manufacturing cost of $1.75, it’s a tiny fraction of the price of most lab equipment. The telescope’s final magnification is about 140x, powerful enough to see a malaria parasite in a cell. The instruments have been deployed across the world in a dizzying array of applications. Last year in India, the Foldscope was used to identify a new type of cyanobacteria. The microscope also helped identify fake drugs, Prakash said.

Prakash said Foldscope — and the broader premise of frugal science — has a bigger role to play in a world awash with misinformation: “I want to put science in everyone’s hands. Make it more personal. We have decoupled everyday life from the scientific process.

The Foldscope is powerful enough to see a single bacterium.

As scientists working in the Philippines in the 1970s, biochemists Baldomero Olivera and University of the Philippines Diliman Emeritus Professor Lourdes Cruz struggled to source the right supplies for DNA research.

“We had to find something to do that didn’t require fancy equipment because we didn’t have any,” Olivera, a distinguished professor at the University of Utah School of Biological Sciences, said in a video. produced for the Golden Goose Awards.

Olivera and Cruz came up with what they hoped would be a successful side project. Conical snails are common in the Philippines and they have always fascinated Olivera, who had collected seashells as a child. The couple decided to research the nature of the venom the snails used to paralyze their tiny prey.

The team discovered that the bioactive compounds in the venom were tiny proteins called peptides. After moving to in the United States and teaming up with graduate students from the University of Utah, Dr. Michael McIntosh and the late Craig T. Clark, Olivera and Cruz learned that some of the venom peptides reacted differently in mice than in fish and frogs. In mammals, the compounds were found to be involved in pain sensation rather than muscle paralysis.

“There was this incredible gold mine of compounds,” McIntosh said in the video. He is now a professor and director of research in psychiatry at the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Utah.

Work on a type of compound in venoms, known as omega-conotoxin, led to the development of a powerful painkiller, ziconotide, commercially known as Prialt.

Their work on conotoxins also transformed neuroscience. Other scientists are now explore the possibility of using conotoxins to treat a wide range of diseases, including drug addiction, epilepsy and diabetes.

The most famous laboratory accident in the history of science, when mold contaminated one of Alexander Fleming’s petri dishes, led to the discovery in 1928 of the first antibiotic, penicillin.

Much less well known is the lab accident that helped develop LASIK, a laser procedure to correct vision problems, including nearsightedness and farsightedness. It’s a procedure that has allowed millions of people around the world to give up their glasses for good.

In the early 1990s, Detao Du was a graduate student at the University of Michigan in the laboratory of Gérard Mourou, a French physicist and professor. Morou, with Canadian physicist Donna Strickland, has developed an optical technique that produces short, intense laser pulses that can pierce precise points without damaging the surrounding material. This discovery earned Mourou and Strickland, a professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Waterloo in Canada, the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics.

(Left to right) Dr. Ron Kurtz and Tibor Juhasz commercialized the LASIK technique to correct vision.

One evening while working in the lab, Du accidentally lifted his glasses while aligning the mirrors of a femtosecond laser, then a brand new type of laser that emitted an extremely short light pulse. Du’s eyeball caught a stray ray.

“He came to my office very worried. He was afraid they would close the lab,” said Morou, who encouraged Du to see a doctor.

Du was treated by Dr. Ron Kurtz, then a medical student interning at the University of Michigan’s Kellogg Eye Center.

“When we dilated the eye, what I saw was a very small number of very sharp retinal burns, what we would call, in the very center of his retina,” Kurtz said in a video produced for the Golden Goose. Awards. “I was curious what kind of laser it was.”

Convinced that it could have a medical application, Kurtz met with Morou’s team and ended up conducting research with Du, who had quickly recovered from his injury. After a year, they presented their findings at a optics conference in Toronto in 1994. There they met and teamed up with a researcher who was already studying lasers to correct vision named Tibor Juhasz, then a researcher at the University of California. In 1997, Kurtz and Juhasz founded IntraLase, a company that focused on commercializing the bladeless LASIK technique for corrective eye surgery.

Mourou said he never imagined his precision laser would have applications beyond physics. He also credited the university’s management, which, while insisting on better safety protocols, did not shut down its lab as he feared. Instead, officials funded some of the research that led to the corrective eye surgery technique.

“It took an accident like this to realize a new field,” said Mourou, who added that Du suffered no lasting effects from his injury.

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