2013 Golden Goose Award Recipients Exemplify Value of Basic Scientific Research

Sep 23, 2013

(Washington, DC) – The second annual Golden Goose Awards were presented on Thursday, September 19th in recognition of those whose work demonstrated “the unpredictable nature of basic scientific research and the fact that some of the most important scientific discoveries come from federally funded research that may once have been viewed as unusual, odd or without practical application.” 

The 2013 Golden Goose Award Recipients were Dr. Alvin Roth, Dr. David Gale, Dr. Lloyd Shapley, Dr. Thomas Brock, Dr. Hudson Freeze, and Dr. John Eng. Dr. Gale is receiving the honor posthumously.

In research funded by the Office of Naval Research and the National Science Foundation, Dr. Gale and Dr. Shapley developed an algorithm that matched people up with potential romantic partners based on their own rankings of possible matches, ensuring that the participants ended up with the person they preferred most who also preferred them and maximizing the number of strong matches. The algorithm has since been applied to markets from real estate to public school systems. Dr. Roth recognized the potential application of Gale and Shapley’s algorithm to organ transplants, as a way of allocating something of extreme value without using money, paving the way for today’s kidney matching system.

Microbiologists Dr. Thomas Brock and Dr. Hudson Freeze received the Golden Goose award for research funded by the National Science Foundation, which eventually led to the sequencing of the human genome. The studies began by investigating a heat-loving bacteria in the hot springs of Yellowstone National Park. The bacteria produced a protein, Taq, that was heat-resistant, and which played an important role in replicating DNA. Applying Taq to other types of DNA revolutionized how scientists replicate DNA in the laboratory, allowing a process that used to be long and laborious to take place in a matter of hours. This discovery revolutionized biomedical science, contributed to the Nobel Prize-winning work of Dr. Kary Mullis, and made the Human Genome Project possible.

Finally, Dr. John Eng was honored for his contributions to the treatment of diabetes. Dr. Eng examined the venom of poisonous snakes and lizards after reading about their effects on the pancreas.  In work originally funded by the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, Dr. Eng eventually discovered a compound in Gila monster venom which stimulates the production of insulin, something that people with diabetes need to prevent their blood sugar from skyrocketing and producing neurological damage and kidney failure. Dr. Eng’s discover eventually caught the attention of Amylin Pharmaceuticals, who developed it into the drug Byetta, now prescribed to millions of Americans living with diabetes.

Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) praised the accomplishments of the awardees. “Federally funded research has immense and often unpredictable benefits to society. The genomics revolution, innovations in diabetes treatment and organ donor matching are all examples of major scientific breakthroughs which have resulted from basic research that initially appeared to have little or no practical application. These recipients remind us of the importance of our investments in basic research across all fields of science and engineering. I congratulate the awardees for their important work, and for inspiring generations of youth to aspire to scientific accomplishment.”

The Golden Goose Awards are sponsored by the Association of American Universities, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities, the Breakthrough Institute, the Progressive Policy Institute, the Task Force on American Innovation, the Richard Lounsbery Foundation, The Science Coalition, United for Medical Research, the American Chemical Society, the American Mathematical Society and the Association of American Medical Colleges.