Most people go to Yellowstone National Park to explore the outdoors and admire nature. But in 1966 two scientists named Freeze and Brock went on different mission, not knowing that their journey would transform human medicine. Now, 47 years later, they receive the prestigious Golden Goose Award.
In 1966 Thomas Brock, Ph.D., of Indiana University, and his then-undergraduate research assistant Hudson Freeze, Ph.D., visited Yellowstone National Park because they were curious to find out how organisms survived in extreme conditions such as the park’s famed hot springs and geysers. The enzymes produced by one of the bacteria they collected to study – which they named Thermus aquaticus – enabled scientists to employ the high heat necessary for the replication and study of its DNA. Once they were able to study and use DNA in this manner, scientists essentially created the field of biotechnology, which then made possible the genomics revolution. These developments have led to extraordinary medical advances in recent decades and promise many more.
On September 19 at an event in Washington, D.C., the two will receive a Golden Goose Award for this work. The Golden Goose Award is a new award that highlights the often unexpected or serendipitous nature of basic scientific research by honoring federally funded researchers whose work may once have been viewed as unusual, odd, or obscure but which has produced important discoveries that have benefitted society in significant ways. The Golden Goose Award alludes to the fable of the goose that laid golden eggs. Its sponsors view America’s federally funded research enterprise as an extremely valuable goose whose golden eggs are the innovations and discoveries born from basic research that transform lives and fuel the economy.
The Brock and Freeze discovery has led to the ability to amplify copies of DNA through a method called polymerase chain reaction (PCR). PCR is now used to perform accurate genetic tests for a variety of diseases, to perform forensic science tests that analyze crime scene evidence, and catalyzed the efforts to sequence the human genome. Today, Hudson Freeze is a professor and director of the Genetic Disease Program of the Sanford Children’s Health Research Center at Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute.
Who would have thought that all this started by two guys with a federal grant and a trip to the hot springs in Yellowstone National Park!