Chapter 24 Archaeal Diversity

Chapter 24 Archaeal Diversity: Why is basic research important? Here is your answer

Contributed by paustian on Sep 17, 2013 - 02:21 PM

In the early 1960's Tom Brock was on vacation in Yellowstone National park. He hit the usual tourist destinations, including the hot springs of the park. To his astonishment, he observed what he was sure were cyanobacteria living at temperatures over 80°C (176°F). Professor Brock went back to his lab and wrote a grant to study the microbes present in this environment. Now many would think that this research is esoteric at best. However, as part of that research, Tom discovered Thermus aquaticus, a microbe that has a optimum growth temperature at 85°C. This was unheard of at the time and it opened up the field of extremophiles, which has let to many important discoveries. 

Fast forward until the 1990's, where Kary Mullis is searching for a replacement polymerase that can withstand the heat of a new reaction cycle he is working out. He decides to use the polymerase from Thermus aquaticus, now known as taq polymerase, instead of the polymerase of E. coli. Taq polymerase can withstand the high temperature his procedure requires. His experiments are a success, the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is born, and Dr. Mullis wins the nobel prize. PCR is now a powerful technique used in medicine, the food industry, forensics, many types of basic research, and much more.

For his work, Dr. Brock received the golden goose award, celebrating the huge payoff his little experiments in Yellowstone had. Professor Brock was a faculty member here at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.


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