Some Notable Achievements

The follow list of is far from comprehensive, but it gives an idea of the types of things our scientists have taken on and accomplished throughout the years.

  • 1890 – Agricultural chemist Stephen Babcock develops test to measure butterfat content in milk. Buyers can now pay farmers according to the fat content of their milk.
  • 1894 – No more exploding peas: Bacteriologist Harry Russell develops new, higher-temperature sterilization methods for canned peas and other vegetables, changing industry practices nation-wide.
  • 1909 – Nation’s first department of agricultural economics founded at CALS.
  • 1910 – Department of what? The college establishes the nation’s first department of genetics, but called it “experimental breeding,” because certain ag leaders doubted that farmers would understand what “genetics” meant.
  • 1911 – Charles Galpin is national’s first professor of rural sociology. His research on Walworth County established the field.
  • 1911 – Plant pathologist J.C. Walker developed strains of cabbage resistant to a fungus that was threatening Wisconsin’s entire crop.  This spawned the later development of disease resistance in onions, potatoes, beans, peas and cucumbers.
  • 1912 – Two-wheeled agent. College teams with Oneida Co. to hire Wisconsin’s first county ag agent. E.L. Luther visits farms by motorcycle.
  • 1913 – CALS biochemists discovered the first vitamin, A, in 1913.  Two years later they discovered the vitamin B complex, which opened the field of nutrition for the identification of all the vitamins in the 1940s.
  • 1919 – Hello to all you farmers. Ag information from the college serves as the content for the nation’s first regular radio broadcasts.
  • 1923 – Biochemist Harry Steenbock figures out how to biofortify food with vitamin D by exposing it to ultraviolet light, leading to the almost complete eradication of rickets by the mid-1940s. Also, the college names Prof. O.R. Zeasman as nation’s first soil erosion specialist.
  • 1932 – College hires John Steuart Curry as artist in residence — the first position of its kind in the nation.
  • 1933 – College helps Oneida County develop the nation’s first rural zoning ordinance, which served as a national model.
  • 1936 – Dairy foods researchers adapt irradiation process to increase vitamin D content of milk.
  • 1939 – College establishes world’s first department of wildlife management, headed by Aldo Leopold.
  • 1938 – Geneticist Joshua Lederberg discovers sexual reproduction of bacteria. Wins Nobel prize for this work 10 years later.
  • 1941 – After a farmer brought to campus a bucket of blood and asked scientists why his cows were bleeding to death, biochemist Karl Paul Link discovered a powerful anticoagulant in spoil sweet clover. He goes on to synthesize various forms of dicumarol, a blood-thinning agent that’s used to treat blood clots and is the basis for Warfarin, a potent rodent killer. The university earned millions from the patents.
  • 1941 – Biochemist Henry Lardy devises technique to preserve and store bull semen, making artificial insemination of livestock practical and laying the foundation for the artificial breeding industry and the genetic improvement of dairy cattle herds.
  • 1942 – Scientists begin work on mass penicillin production, developing techniques that made a once prohibitively expensive drug affordable and widely available. It was used to treat infections of soldiers injured in the war.
  • 1948 – College crop scientists collaborated on irrigation research that helps makes Wisconsin’s Central Sands — once considered a windblown wasteland — one of the nation’s leading vegetable production areas.
  • 1952 – Forage breeders release Vernal alfalfa, a winter-hardy, disease-resistant, high-yielding variety that forms the foundation of Wisconsin’s $10-billion-a-year forage industry.
  • 1969 – CALS wildlife ecologist plays pivotal role in defining environmental impacts of organochlorine pesticides. Wisconsin hearings on DDT set the stage for nationwide ban.
  • 1970 – Biochemist Har Gobind Khorana synthesizes first gene, and later is awarded the Nobel Prize.
  • 1977 – CALS bacteriologists describe site of nitrogen-fixing enzyme in bacteria and unravel the mechanism by which the enzyme is regulated — an important step in long-time research aimed at putting nitrogen-fixing capability into non-legume plants.
  • 1979 – CALS food safety researchers provide purified botulinum toxin for first trials with human volunteers. Purified toxin made at CALS was the first to be FDA-approved for use in a revolutionary eye treatment that replaced conventional eye surgery. Botulinum toxin is now also used to treat severe neck cramps, cerebral palsy and migraine headaches — as well as to erase wrinkles.
  • 1980 – CALS horticulturists clone a plant gene for the first time.
  • 1981 – The first transgenic plant (bean protein in sunflowers) demonstrates the potential for genetic engineering in plants.
  • 1986 – Horticulturist Brent McCown is first to insert a gene for herbicide resistance in to a woody plant and the first to regenerate a woody plant from a single leaf cell.
  • 1997 – Geneticist Fred Blattner decodes the complete genetic sequence of a harmless strain of the E. coli bacterium, leading to a better understanding of its lethal counterpart.
  • 1998 – Biochemist Ron Raines discovers the key to collagen’s strength, a protein that acts like a “solder” to give the body its structure and shape.
  • 1998 – Microbiologist Jo Handelsman helps pioneer the field of metagenomics, opening the door for scientists to study the genes of large populations of “unculturable” microbes living in soil and other environments.
  • 1999 – Biochemist David Schwartz sequences a bacterial genome using shotgun optical mapping, an approach he developed that takes a fraction of the time that conventional DNA sequencing takes.
  • 2002 – Biochemists James Ntambi and Alan Attie help discover a gene, known as SCD-1, that appears to play a critical role in fat metabolism. When the gene is removed from mice, the animals can eat a rich, high-fat diet without adding weight or risking the complications of diabetes.
  • 2003 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture bestowes its prestigious “Secretary’s Honor Award” on the Eco-Potato Partnership, a group composed of the World Wildlife Fund, Wisconsin potato growers and CALS researchers. The award recognizes the team’s efforts to develop and implement more sustainable methods to grow potatoes. Eco-potatoes are now a model for other sustainably-grown produce.
  • 2004 – A team led by geneticist Jiming Jiang is the first to sequence a centromere from a higher organism. Although it is widely believed that this section of the chromosome is full of “junk DNA,” Jiang finds more than a handful of active genes in it.
  • 2006 – Microbiologist Cameron Currie discovers that leaf-cutting ants harbor bacteria inside specialized compartments in their bodies. The ants use the bacteria, which produce antibiotics, to ward off fungi that invade their food source. The ants also feed the bacteria, making the arrangement a classic example of a mutually-beneficial symbiotic relationship.
  • 2008 – Nutritional scientist Denise Ney conducts clinical trials showing that glycomacropeptide, a protein isolated from cheese whey, is safe for people with phenylketonuria to eat. Generally, individuals with PKU must avoid dietary protein, which acts like a toxin inside their bodies.
  • 2009 – With virologist Ann Palmenburg as lead author, a multi-institutional team of researchers reports the sequences for all 99 strains of the common cold virus.
  • 2010 – In a study that promises to fill in the fine details of the plant world’s blueprint for surviving drought, a team of lead by CALS biochemist Michael Sussman identifies in living plants the set of proteins that help them withstand water stress.