Near the end of last month, Dean Kate shared some of her year-end reflections in a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel op-ed. The piece, titled “Cultivating curiosity, and embracing a sense of wonder,” celebrates the curiosity that drives scientific inquiry and deftly shows how basic discoveries lead to important real-world applications.
Here’s an excerpt:
Without the curiosity that led UW CALS researchers to identify and describe the first vitamins, there wouldn’t be vitamin D-based treatments for the nearly 900,000 Americans who suffer from chronic kidney disease.
A UW animal scientist wondered how it was that nonidentical calf twins could carry each other’s blood cells without having a severe immune reaction. Studying the calves, he uncovered the phenomenon of immune tolerance, which led to human organ transplants.
UW Food Research Institute scientists wondered why compounds produced by Clostridium botulinum bacteria were so deadly. This paved the way for treatments to ease muscle spasms and erase wrinkles, and continues to help explain how toxins affect the connections between nerves and muscles.
A UW microbiologist has long been fascinated by how leaf-cutter ants use bacteria to manufacture antibiotics to protect the fungus the ants grow for food. He is now collaborating with other scientists to search for novel antibiotics in previously overlooked places — such as insects, plants and marine life — to combat the rising number of deadly antibiotic-resistant infections.
This kind of curiosity is never fully satisfied, and that’s a good thing. The more we know about the basic mechanisms of the natural world, the better prepared we will be to solve future challenges. Our researchers are unraveling mysteries in many critical areas.
In case you missed it, you can read the full op-ed piece here.