What do a microscope, an analgesic and a laser have in common?  They were all discovered by chance (and revolutionized science)

Discoveries made from an accident in a laboratory, poisonous molluscs and a scientific instrument made of paper are some of the obscure, peculiar or complex advances to be distinguished last Wednesday with awards that honor investigations that have had a great, if unexpected, impact on society.

The 2022 Golden Goose Awards, an award organized by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, honored three teams of scientists for their research projects that started out as awe-inspiring and turned out to be groundbreaking discoveries.

“The Golden Goose Award reminds us that a potential discovery can be hidden anywhere and illustrates the benefits of investing in basic research to drive innovation,” said Sudip S. Parikh, executive director of the AAAC and executive editor of the AAAC. Science family of publications.

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

Foldscope, the powerful microscope made of paper

The revolutionary paper microscope that is rocking science

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

“I saw a $50,000 microscope [cerca de 50.000 euros] in a jungle in the middle of nowhere, locked in a room. It was a moment of irony. I immediately realized it was not the right tool,” said Prakash, associate professor and senior fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford University.

Why was this essential scientific equipment capable of helping to diagnose devastating diseases like malaria not being used? It was bulky and complex to transport, required training to handle, and difficult to maintain. As delicate and expensive as the instrument was, even trained technicians felt nervous using it, he explained.

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

“It took an immense amount of engineering. In the first phase, it was next to labs with multimillion dollar microscopes. We wanted to make a microscope for the price of a dollar.”

Initially, people thought the idea was a bit silly, Prakash said, and getting funding for the project was a challenge.

We jump to 2022. The Foldscope is not as cheap as a dollar, but its production cost of $1.75 is a tiny fraction of the price of most lab equipment. The telescope’s final magnification is about 140x, powerful enough to see a malarial parasite in a cell. The instruments have been deployed around the world in a dizzying array of applications. Last year in India, Foldscope was used to identify a new type of cyanobacterium. The microscope also helped identify fake drugs, Prakash said.

Prakash said that Foldscope – and the premise of frugal science in general – has a very important role to play in a world full of misinformation: “I want to put science in everyone’s hands. Make it more personal. We have been decoupling everyday life from the scientific process.”

Foldscope is powerful enough to see a single bacteria

A side project that transformed neuroscience

As scientists working in the Philippines in the 1970s, biochemists Baldomero Olivera and Lourdes Cruz, professor emeritus at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, struggled to get the right equipment to study DNA.

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

Olivera and Cruz created what they hoped would turn out to be a productive side project. Conical shell snails are common in the Philippines, and have always fascinated Olivera, who as a child collected shells. The pair decided to investigate the nature of the venom the snails used to paralyze the tiny fish they feed on.

The team found that the bioactive compounds in the venom were tiny proteins known as peptides. After moving to the US and joining University of Utah graduate students Michael McIntosh and the late Craig T. Clark, Olivera and Cruz discovered that some of the venom peptides reacted differently in rats than in fish. and frogs. It turns out that in mammals the compounds were involved in the sensation of pain rather than muscle paralysis.

“We came across an incredible gold mine of compounds,” said McIntosh. He is currently professor and research director in psychiatry in the College of Biological Sciences at the University of Utah.

The study of a type of compound present in venoms, known as omega-conotoxin, led to the development of a potent analgesic, ziconotide, commercially known as Prialt.

Their work with conotoxins has also led to a transformation in neuroscience. Other scientists are now exploring the possibility of using conotoxins to treat a wide range of conditions, including addiction, epilepsy and diabetes.

How a lab accident resulted in a way to correct vision

The most famous laboratory accident 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.

Much less well known is the laboratory accident that contributed to the development of LASIK, a laser procedure to correct vision problems including myopia and farsightedness. It’s a procedure that has already allowed millions of people around the world to ditch 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, along with Canadian physicist Donna Strickland, developed an optical technique that produces short, intense laser pulses that can pierce precise points without causing damage to surrounding material. With this discovery, Mourou and Strickland, a professor in the department of physics and astronomy at the University of Waterloo in Canada, won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2018.

Ron Kurtz and Tibor Juhasz commercialized the LASIK technique to correct vision

One night while working in the lab, Du accidentally lifted his goggles while aligning the mirrors of a femtosecond laser, then a very recent type of laser that emitted an extremely short pulse of light. A stray beam hit Du’s eyeball.

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

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

“When we dilated the eye, what I saw was a very small number of very precise retinal burns, right in the center of the retina,” Kurtz said in a video produced for the Golden Goose Awards. “I was curious to know what kind of laser that was.”

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

Mourou said he never imagined his precision laser would have applications beyond physics. He also thanked the university administration for, despite demanding better safety protocols, not shutting down his lab as he feared. Instead, management funded some of the investigations that led to the corrective eye surgery technique.

“It took an accident like this for a new specialty to emerge,” said Mourou, who added that Du’s injury did not cause him permanent damage.


/ Katie Hunt

Source: Tvi24

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J. A. Allen

Author, blogger, freelance writer. Hater of spiders. Drinker of wine. Mother of hellions.

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