When Jack Levin and Frederik Bang studied blood clotting in the horseshoe crab at the MBL in the 1960s, they had no idea their research would eventually lead to the development and commercialization of a globally used test for detecting bacterial contamination in medical settings.
In recognition of their unexpected and extraordinary contribution to society, Levin and Bang are among five scientists to receive 2019 Golden Goose Awards from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). An awards ceremony will be held on Tuesday, Sept. 10 at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.
“Science can change the world in unpredictable ways, and these awards recognize the scientists whose work leads to the tangible human benefits,” said Alan Leshner, interim chief executive officer at AAAS. The awards committee includes a bipartisan group of Congressional supporters and several science and higher education organizations, in addition to the AAAS.
The other Golden Goose Award winners this year are David Sachar, Noel Rose, and Ernest Witebsky. Background on the awards may be read here.
Pathobiologist Fred Bang was a pioneer in applying marine biology to medical research, and his many interests included using invertebrates to study biological processes. In researching the circulatory system of the horseshoe crab at the MBL, he found that certain bacteria caused the crab blood to significantly clot. To solve the mystery of what caused the clotting, Bang collaborated with hematologist Jack Levin, and Levin’s experiments revealed a type of toxin called endotoxin to be the culprit. Levin then used horseshoe crab blood to create a new way to screen for bacterial endotoxins. Today, this test, the Limulus amebocyte lysate (LAL) test, is the standard way to screen parenteral drugs, intravenous fluids, and medical devices for bacterial endotoxins, with approximately 17 million samples screened annually.
At the time, Levin and Bang were visiting investigators at MBL from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Levin subsequently remained active at MBL in many capacities, including as a researcher, a member of the MBL Board of Trustees (1988-1993), and a member of the MBL Society. He is a professor of Medicine and Laboratory Medicine at the University of California School of Medicine, San Francisco.
“The MBL epitomizes the type of institution which makes it possible for an investigator to pursue a line of research which is of personal interest, without consideration of its potential usefulness, however that might be defined,” wrote Levin. “This tradition, combined with the highly supportive scientific environment which I encountered during my initial summers in Woods Hole, made it possible for me, then a new member of the MBL community, to thrive and successfully initiate what became an important component of my career as a biomedical investigator.”
Levin is the second MBL-affiliated scientist to receive the Golden Goose Award. Among its inaugural recipients in 2012 were the late Osamu Shimomura, MBL Distinguished Scientist and 2008 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, whose discovery of a glowing protein in a jellyfish led decades later to a revolutionary technique for imaging proteins and other molecules in cells.