appreciating the people of science and beyond

Almost half a year ago I was reading Better You Than Me: Scientists Sicken Mosquitoes To Stop Dengue and I recall dropping my Professor an email about it. Just a week ago, I happened to chance upon A Scientist’s 20-Year Quest To Defeat Dengue Fever again and wanted to write about it but a tight work schedule put this off until today.

A quick summary – an Australian scientist, Scott O’Neill has an idea to prevent the spread of dengue. The article tells us how despite the difficulties of injecting the Wolbachia bacteria into mosquito eggs, O’Neill persevered for the past 20 years and more to come, working out how to infect mosquitoes with this strain of unique bacteria such that they can no longer spread dengue. Of course more problems could develop when the mosquitoes develop resistance and so forth, but I’ll leave the details of this significant research for your own reading at the links above.

Without scientific expert opinion, I discuss this solely out of admiration for O’Neill’s persistence in creating a positive impact for the dengue communities, a prevalent problem for those living in tropical areas. This also brings to mind Robert Koch. After a series of studies on anthrax and tuberculosis, Koch’s attempt to prove that vibrio bacterium as a cause of cholera was fraught with challenges due to the miasma theory of disease. In short, the miasma theory postulated that disease proliferation was caused by a lethal form of “bad air” or “pollution”. This gave little credit to Koch’s work, which fundamentally supported the germ theory. I would time and again emphasize the importance of Professor Ferdinand Cohn, who had in all his brilliance as one of the first botanists in Europe teaching with living plant samples, recognised Koch’s humble request to meet for a presentation of his earlier findings.

I draw two main learning points from here.

1. I am thankful and inspired by the good people out there who are still doing research for the better of communities. With monetary incentives in place, I have heard of some black-sheep researchers squandering a good amount of resources on absolutely unhelpful equipment without valid reason. I do not imagine that scientific research yields results spontaneously – a good many number of years is definitely needed to translate an idea into a discovery for cure.

2. It sometimes takes a lot of luck and fate to have that “rare stranger” acknowledge your work. Koch, without academic credentials, was given the opportunity by Cohn to demonstrate revolutionary experiments before himself and Cohnheim. Koch later also received Professor Cohn’s encouragement for journal publications soon after. I quote a few lines from Thomas D. Brock (1988). Robert Koch: A Life in Medicine and Bacteriology. ASM Press, p. 48. “Koch’s success was not only through the elegance of his research, but also through the force of his personality. Cohn, an especially good judge of character, was charmed by Koch’s sympathetic personality … … Koch found in Cohn not only a fatherly figure but a valued advisor of immense integrity”.

I’m always thankful for the random people who show up in my life, somewhere out of the blue, who have recognised my abilities and guided me along in my career.
Have you met one of these brilliant people in life?
If you have been fortunate to, yet have not been in touch with your “rare stranger” for awhile, maybe it’s time to re-connect and share a word of thanks too. 🙂

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