Navigation Links
Decades on, bacterium's discovery feted as paragon of basic science
Date:9/12/2013

MADISON Over time, the esoteric and sometimes downright strange quests of science have proven easy targets for politicians and others looking for perceived examples of waste in government and a cheap headline.

In 1966, microbiologist Tom Brock's National Science Foundation-supported treks to Yellowstone National Park to study life in the park's thermal springs might easily have been singled out as yet another feckless science project, deserving of a "Golden Fleece Award."

But Brock, then a professor at Indiana University, and Hudson Freeze, an undergraduate student working with Brock at Mushroom Spring in the Lower Geyser Basin of Yellowstone, found something that by any measure validates investments in basic science, the undirected search for new knowledge.

At the time, Brock was simply interested in studying the microbial ecology of the thermal springs that make Yellowstone famous. It was a frontier of knowledge as scientific dogma held that life, or at least photosynthetic life, could not occur at temperatures above 160 degrees Fahrenheit.

But to their astonishment, Brock and Freeze found a bacterium, later dubbed Thermus aquaticus, that made its entire living in the scalding waters of Mushroom Spring. The discovery set the stage for the branch of science that studies life in extreme environments and, most tangibly, yielded an enzyme, Taq polymerase, that is central to the technology for amplifying DNA revolutionizing everything from medical diagnostics to criminal forensics.

"We were looking for a simple system where one could do basic research in microbial ecology. Everything fell out of that," recalls Brock, now an emeritus professor of bacteriology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "We didn't know there were these organisms that could live in boiling water."

Now, almost 40 years after discovering and describing the organism, Brock and Freeze are being recognized with the Golden Goose Award, an award aimed at celebrating "seemingly obscure studies that have led to major breakthroughs and resulted in significant societal impact."

Conferred by a gaggle of organizations the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Association of American Universities, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, the Breakthrough Institute, the Progressive Policy Institute, the Science Coalition, the Task Force on American Innovation, and United for Medical Research the Golden Goose Award is given for federally-funded research that has led to "demonstrable, significant human and economic benefits."

The enzyme derived from the Thermus aquaticus bacterium powers polymerase chain reaction, or PCR. It is a technique used routinely to take trace amounts of DNA and amplify it for identification or study. The Taq polymerase is useful because it is stable at the high temperatures PCR requires to denature DNA and exponentially replicate target strands. The technology for which its inventor, Kary Mullis, was awarded the Nobel Prize is widely used in molecular biology, criminal forensics and medical diagnostics.

The Golden Goose Award was originally conceived by Congressman Jim Cooper of Tennessee to help educate members of Congress and the public about the value of basic scientific research. The name is a play on the Golden Fleece Awards, given by the late Wisconsin Sen. William Proxmire between 1975 and 1988, targeting specific federally funded research grants as examples of government waste.

"We've all read stories about the study with the wacky title, the research project from left field," Cooper says. "But off-the-wall science yields medical miracles. We can't abandon research funding only because we can't predict how the next miracle will happen."

Taq polymerase has gone on to be a workhorse molecule of science in good measure because Brock and Freeze deposited samples of the organism in the American Type Culture Collection, a repository where others can freely obtain cultures of the organism for little or no cost. It was there that Mullis and his collaborators found Thermus aquaticus and its enzyme when they were looking to replace an E. coli enzyme that did not survive the high temperatures of PCR.

Although Brock began his career at the Upjohn Co. looking for new antibiotics, after a few years he turned to the professor business and basic research: "Everything I ever did was basic," says Brock. "It's great that this discovery happened, but I wouldn't have predicted it."

Brock and Freeze will receive their award at a Capitol Hill ceremony on Sept. 19.


'/>"/>

Contact: Tom Brock
tdbrock@charter.net
608-238-5050
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Source:Eurekalert

Related biology news :

1. Report: Cleanup of some contaminated groundwater sites unlikely for decades
2. After decades of research, scientists unlock how insulin interacts with cells
3. Climate change to profoundly affect the Midwest in coming decades
4. Mercury levels in Pacific fish likely to rise in coming decades
5. Discovery of a molecule that initiates maturation of mammalian eggs can lead to more IVF pregnancies
6. Annual Drug Discovery Conferences Being Held in Boston MA, Spring 2012
7. Discovery provides blueprint for new drugs that can inhibit hepatitis C virus
8. Unexpected discovery reveals a new mechanism for how the cerebellum extracts signal from noise
9. Discovery offers insight into treating viral stomach flu
10. Breast cancer risk gene discovery fast tracked by new technology
11. Tales from the crypt lead researchers to cancer discovery
Post Your Comments:
*Name:
*Comment:
*Email:
(Date:4/19/2016)... , UAE, April 20, 2016 ... implemented as a compact web-based "all-in-one" system solution for ... biometric fingerprint reader or the door interface with integration ... modern access control systems. The minimal dimensions of the ... readers into the building installations offer considerable freedom of ...
(Date:4/14/2016)... Israel , April 14, 2016 ... Authentication and Malware Detection, today announced the appointment of ... assumed the new role. Goldwerger,s leadership appointment ... on the heels of the deployment of its platform ... BioCatch,s behavioral biometric technology, which discerns unique cognitive and ...
(Date:3/31/2016)... 31, 2016  Genomics firm Nabsys has completed a ... Barrett Bready , M.D., who returned to the company ... technical leadership team, including Chief Technology Officer, John ... Steve Nurnberg and Vice President of Software and Informatics, ... Dr. Bready served as CEO of Nabsys ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:6/27/2016)... , June 27, 2016 /PRNewswire/ - BIOREM Inc. (TSX-V: BRM) ... advised by its major shareholders, Clean Technology Fund I, ... United States based venture capital funds which ... Biorem (on a fully diluted, as converted basis), that ... of their entire equity holdings in Biorem to TUS ...
(Date:6/27/2016)... NC (PRWEB) , ... June 27, 2016 , ... ... just published their findings on what they believe could be a new and ... of the new research. Click here to read it now. , ...
(Date:6/27/2016)... ... June 27, 2016 , ... Newly created 4Sight Medical ... to the healthcare market. The company's primary focus is on new product introductions, ... strategies that are necessary to help companies efficiently bring their products to market. ...
(Date:6/27/2016)... , June 27, 2016  Liquid Biotech ... announced the funding of a Sponsored Research Agreement ... circulating tumor cells (CTCs) from cancer patients.  The ... in CTC levels correlate with clinical outcomes in ... These data will then be employed to support ...
Breaking Biology Technology: