During 2012, MSU and the nation are observing the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Morrill Act, which helped democratize higher education and bring science and innovation to everyday life. It’s also a fitting time to celebrate some of the life-changing and lifesaving discoveries made by Spartans through the years.
A pioneering hybrid
Photo courtesy of Michigan State Unitversity Museum
Thanks to a world-class MSU botanist, the nation’s corn supply expanded exponentially in the 19th century, helping to better feed the nation’s growing population. Professor William J. Beal pioneered the hybridization of corn—at the urging of Charles Darwin—crossing two varieties to create a hybrid that greatly increased yield. Today, the United States leads the world in corn production.
A more advanced weapon in the fight against cancer
In the early 1970s, MSU researcher Barnett Rosenberg and colleagues discovered the cancer-fighting properties of platinum, which led to the development in 1978 of what is still one of the world’s most widely used cancer drugs—cisplatin. When combined with radiation therapy, the intravenous drug dramatically reduces deaths from cervical and testicular cancers and lowers rates of lung cancers, head and neck cancers, and bone and early-stage ovarian cancers.
A dose of malaria prevention
In 2011, an MSU research team led by Andrea Amalfitano, Osteopathic Heritage Foundation Endowed Chair in MSU's College of Osteopathic Medicine, created a new vaccine by combining the use of a disabled cold virus with an immune system-stimulating gene that appears to increase the immune response against the parasite that causes malaria. For more than two decades, MSU researchers— including Terrie Taylor, University Distinguished Professor of internal medicine and an osteopathic physician, and Gretchen Birbeck, director of MSU's International Neurologic and Psychiatric Epidemiology Program—have conducted research and worked to treat malaria in Africa, a disease that kills as many as a million people each year, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa.
Wiping out food-borne illness
Widespread national recalls of lettuce caused by E. coli outbreaks prompted Elliot Ryser, MSU professor of food science and human nutrition, to construct a small-scale processing line similar to industrial ones to pinpoint how contamination occurs. MSU is the only university with such a replica of an industrial food processing line, offering students the opportunity to gain hands-on research experience and allowing researchers to provide industry with critical data that can help make the nation’s food supply safer.