Science Lays a Golden Egg

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Let’s be honest. Some scientific research can sound a little silly when you first hear about it. But if you look more deeply, you may find remarkable insights in that silly-sounding science.

For instance, why would someone bother to study lizard spit when there are so many serious diseases left to be cured? Or why does the government fund research of horseshoe crabs when it could be focused on public safety?

Longtime readers of the I Spy Physiology blog may remember that venom in Gila monster saliva inspired a medicine that today helps millions of people manage their type 2 diabetes. And, horseshoe crab blood is the gold standard for screening vaccines and other medical products for bacterial contamination.

These discoveries and many others have been recipients of the Golden Goose Award. Founded in 2012 by then-U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper of Tennessee, the award honors “scientific studies or research that may have seemed obscure, sounded ‘funny’ or for which the results were totally unforeseen at the outset” that went on to have “significant societal impact.”

You could be excused for having a chuckle at a study of the mating habits of the screwworm fly—but 2016 awardees Edward F. Knipling, PhD, and Raymond C. Bushland, PhD, used what they learned about this deadly parasite to eradicate it from North America all the way down to Panama. Because the larvae of this fly commonly infected livestock, their eradication has improved food security for an entire continent and saved the U.S. cattle industry billions of dollars.

Poultry posteriors may be the punchline of a schoolyard jest, but when 2018 awardee Bruce Glick, PhD, studied a gland in chicken butts, he changed our understanding of immunology. It turns out the bursa of Fabricius—found in the backside of birds—helps them develop antibodies. Through Glick’s work and that of others expanding on his discoveries, scientists came to understand  the two parts of the vertebrate immune system with the roles of B cells and T cells. Although people do not have a bursa of Fabricus, we do have these different kinds of cells. Our better understanding of this division has led to improvements in cancer treatment.

The American Physiological Society is a longtime supporter of the Golden Goose Award, including helping to sponsor the video portion of the 2023 award ceremony being held on September 27, 2023. Learn more about past awardees’ “funny” science on the Golden Goose Award website.

Claire Edwards

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