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A laboratory accident, poisonous snails and a scientific instrument made of paper are some of the dark, whimsical or complicated discoveries. advances were honored on Wednesday with awards that honor research that ultimately had a significant impact on society.
Three teams of scientists won the 2022 Golden Goose Awards, an award organized by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, for the “wait, what?” moments for pioneering progress.
“The Golden Goose Award reminds us that potential discoveries can lurk around every corner and demonstrates the benefits of investing in basic research to drive innovation,” said Sudip S. Parikh, AAAS CEO and executive publisher of the Science family of journals. .
Here are this year’s award-winning discoveries that illuminate the unpredictable path of science and the benefits of investing in research that may not pay off immediately.
More than a decade ago, Stanford University bioengineer Manu Prakash was in the Thai jungle on a rabies research field trip when he had an idea for a cheap, easy-to-use microscope.
“I saw this $50,000 microscope in the jungle in the middle of nowhere, locked in a room. It was an ironic moment. I saw right away that it wasn’t the right tool,” said Prakash, an associate professor and senior fellow at the university’s Woods Institute for Environment.
Why was vital scientific equipment that could help diagnose devastating diseases like malaria not being used? The transport was large and clumsy, requiring training to operate and difficult to maintain. Despite being a delicate and expensive tool, even trained technicians can feel nervous about using it, explains Prakash.
Prakash envisioned an inexpensive microscope that anyone could use anywhere, but that was powerful enough to see a single bacterium. Together with his colleague Jim Cybulski, Prakash created the Foldscope: a flat microscope made of paper and a single ball lens.
“It took a lot of engineering. At that early stage, I sat 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 $1.75, it’s a fraction of the price of most lab equipment. The final magnification of the telescope is about 140x, strong enough to see a malaria parasite in a cell. The tools have spread around the world in a dizzying array of applications. Last year in India, the Foldscope was used to identify a new type of cyanobacterium. The microscope has also helped identify fake drugs, Prakash said.
Prakash said that Foldscope – and the broad premise of humble science – have a bigger role to play in a world full of misinformation: “I want to bring science into everyone’s hands. Make it more personal. We have decoupled everyday life from the process of science.’
Scientists working in the Philippines in the 1970s, Baldomero Olivera and Lourdes Cruz, professor emeritus of biochemistry at the University of the Philippines, Diliman, found it difficult to obtain adequate supplies for DNA research.
“We had to find something that didn’t require fancy equipment, because we didn’t have it,” Olivera, a distinguished professor at the University of Utah’s 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 fruitful side project. Cone snails are common in the Philippines, and they always fascinated Olivera, who collected shells as a child. The pair decided to investigate the nature of the venom used by snails to paralyze small predatory fish.
The team discovered that the bioactive compounds in the venom were small proteins known as peptides. After you go Collaborating with undergraduate students in the US and the University of Utah Dr. Michael McIntosh and the late Craig T. Clark, Olivera, and Cruz learned that some venom peptides reacted differently in mice than in fish and frogs. In mammals the compounds were involved in pain sensation rather than muscle paralysis.
“There was this incredible gold mine of compounds,” McIntosh said in the video. He is currently a professor of psychiatry and director of research at the University of Utah’s School of Biological Sciences.
His work on a type of venom compound, the well-known omega-conotoxin, led to the development of a powerful pain reliever, ziconotide, known commercially as Prialt.
His work on conotoxins also transformed neuroscience. There are other scientists now exploring the potential of conotoxins to treat a variety of diseases, including addiction, epilepsy and diabetes.
The most famous laboratory mishap in the history of science, when mold contaminated one of Alexander Fleming’s petri dishes, led to the discovery of the first antibiotic, penicillin, in 1928.
Far less well-known is the laboratory accident that helped develop LASIK, a laser procedure for correcting vision problems, including near and far myopia. It is a procedure that has allowed millions of people around the world to give up their glasses once and for all.
In the early 1990s, Detao Du was an undergraduate student at the University of Michigan in the laboratory of French physicist and professor Gérard Mourou. Morou, along with Canadian physicist Donna Strickland, developed an optical technique that produces short, intense laser pulses that can pierce precise points without damaging the surrounding material. Thanks to this discovery, Mourou and Strickland, a professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Waterloo in Canada, won the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics.
One afternoon while working in the lab, Du accidentally lifted his glasses while aligning the mirrors of a femtosecond laser, then a very new type of laser that emitted very short pulses of light. Du’s eyeball caught a stray beam.
“He came to my office very worried. He was afraid the lab would be closed,” said Morou, who encouraged Du to see the doctor.
He was treated by Dr. Ron Kurtz, then a medical student practicing at the University of Michigan Kellogg Eye Center.
“When we dilated the eye, what I saw was a very precise, what we would call, a very small amount in the center of the retina,” Kurtz said in a video produced for the Golden Goose Awards. “I was curious what type of laser it was.”
Believing it might have a medical application, Kurtz met with Morou’s team and ended up doing research with Dur, who quickly recovered from his injury. After a year, they presented their findings 1994 optics conference held in Toronto. There, they met a researcher named Tibor Juhasz, who was already researching lasers for vision correction, then a researcher at the University of California. By 1997, Kurtz and Juhasz had founded IntraLase, a company 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 leadership, which despite insisting on better safety protocols, did not shut down his lab as feared. Instead, officials funded some research that led to the technique of corrective eye surgery.
“It took an accident like this to make a new area happen,” Mourou said, adding that Du suffered no lasting effects from the injury.