At the conclusion of each year, CALS takes a moment to look back and reflect on the accomplishments of our community. It feels different to do so this year, as 2020 was a year like no other. In the context of a pandemic and struggles for racial equity, our community proved itself to be resilient, including in how we adjusted our approaches to research, teaching and outreach, as well as in how we supported one another.
Below are some of the big stories that stand out from 2020.
Let us begin with a sample of the changes resulting from the coronavirus pandemic, including gathering much-needed PPE for area heath care workers; donating plants to UW Hospital and surplus pork to food pantries; developing an online game to help people understand how viruses spread; offering curbside pick-up options for campus cheeses and frozen treats and meat products; and creating new ways to celebrate our graduates. In so many cases, we were able to assess obstacles and move forward.
In November, the CALS community gathered online to celebrate campus’ new Meat Science and Animal Biologics Discovery building. The celebration website featured pre-recorded video messages from CALS, UW and state leaders, photos showing the building’s impressive interior, profiles of new faculty and staff, and more. The MSABD program also welcomed new program director Steve Ricke in the fall. The program is part of the newly formed Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences.
CALS launched a new global health major in 2020. It provides an alternative to the existing global health certificate (which is among the most popular certificates on campus) for students who want more depth in this topic area. Students in the major explore how human health intersects with multiple interconnected systems, such as climate change, food systems, disease ecology, environmental health, economic development, and healthcare access.
A host of CALS undergraduate students were featured in the spring issue of Grow magazine, noting their involvement in research in the fields of biochemistry, entomology, and biological systems engineering. Hands-on research is a signature experience for undergraduates in CALS. Among all the schools and colleges at UW–Madison, CALS has one of the highest undergraduate research participation rates, and the college’s flexible curriculum accommodates these research opportunities that prepare students for a long list of careers and graduate school in many fields.
A national research initiative announced in September put UW–Madison at the forefront of cryo-electron microscopy and tomography. The National Institutes of Health will provide $22.7 million over six years to create a national research and training hub, led by the Department of Biochemistry and the Morgridge Institute. Cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) can illuminate life at the atomic scale. It is used to make images of molecules that are flash-frozen to capture them in their native state. This gives scientists a highly accurate picture of biological function. Cryo-EM has the potential to impact every corner of medicine, protein and cellular engineering, and many other areas across life sciences research.
Potatoes are a widely loved vegetable, but they present a challenge for plant breeders who are trying to develop new varieties. Their tetraploid genomes that give them two sets of chromosomes from each parent make it difficult to study and manipulate the genetics of traits. To circumvent this, potato breeders are reinventing cultivated potato as a diploid crop—an effort informally known as Potato 2.0. UW–Madison is the lead institution for a national project made possible through a $3 million award from the USDA Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI) and $3 million in matching funds from PepsiCo and the eight universities and research institutions involved.
The first half of the 20th century brought exciting scientific discoveries, most of which were attributed to men who dominated the fields at the time. But women were pushing to be recognized for their contributions. Women have been at the forefront of some of CALS’ greatest advances. This story remembers Marguerite Davis and the discovery of vitamins, Elizabeth McCoy and penicillin for the people, and Esther Lederberg and the creation of model organisms.
In fall, the college launched an online survey to assess climate for all employees, including graduate student employees. The survey, administered by the UW Survey Center, will be used to inform plans to improve climate and increase inclusion across the college. Dean Kate VandenBosch also received and responded to five requests from the CALS Equity and Diversity Committee intended to increase diversity, inclusion and anti-racism in the college. Moving forward on these requests will be a key college priority for 2021 and beyond.
Precision medicine has the potential to tailor treatments to a patient’s unique genetic sequence. But achieving this precision — or developing new drugs — requires knowing which genes are involved in disease. Unfortunately, it’s not always clear how genetic differences lead to different traits. To help overcome this limitation, a research team developed a new method that can pluck previously unknown genes out of the dark. By combining the fine-grained detail available from animal studies with the statistical power of genetic studies involving hundreds of thousands of human genomes, researchers discovered a new gene involved in regulating the body’s cholesterol.
In July, assistant professor Todd Newman in the Department of Life Sciences Communication, explored the “brand” of science in an article in The Conversation, noting that “hope is the starting point for how the public thinks and feels about science.” Newman notes there’s a gap between how scientists and non-scientists think and feel about science, a finding that might have implications for how each group communicates with the other.
The spring issue of Grow magazine featured an overview of research by the lab of entomology professor Claudio Gratton to better understand how and where beneficial insects fit within the mix of agricultural and natural landscapes in Wisconsin. One goal, Gratton says, is to understand how management decisions affect insect populations on these lands. Another is to take a step back, looking at the surrounding areas, to begin learning how the proximity of other types of land cover affects ecological outcomes.
The community conservation work of Teri Allendorf, a conservation biologist and assistant scientist in the Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology, was featured in the fall issue of Grow magazine. A former Peace Corps volunteer, Allendorf has consulted on projects around the globe, from managing and monitoring Bengal tigers in Nepal to setting camera traps in Malaysia.
Students enjoyed a mid-February snowfall on campus before the coronavirus pandemic sent Badgers into virtual learning environments for the remainder of the spring semester and beyond. Photos by Michael P. King.
CALS personnel share their expertise far and wide through media
There was a big demand for expert commentary on number of topics this year. CALS personnel rose to the occasion, sharing their expertise through thousands of media stories this year. Stories that featured CALS experts reached an estimated 11.3 billion media consumers, according to the media monitoring service Meltwater. Below are experts whose stories had the greatest reach this year.