University of Texas

Two Texas Coronavirus Scientists Win Award for Research With ‘Great Societal Benefit'

Jason McLellan, a University of Texas at Austin associate professor in the Department of Molecular Biosciences, and Daniel Wrapp, a graduate student fellow, received the Golden Goose Award for their coronavirus research

The world's largest multidisciplinary scientific society has announced that two Texas scientists were among seven winners of this year's Golden Goose Award.

Jason McLellan, a University of Texas at Austin associate professor in the Department of Molecular Biosciences, and Daniel Wrapp, a graduate student fellow, received the award for their coronavirus research.

Supported by members of Congress from both parties and a coalition of businesses, universities, and scientific societies since 2012, the prize this year went to scientists "whose federally funded research has had a significant impact for the response and treatment of COVID-19."

The American Association for the Advancement of Science cited winners' contributions that led to the development of promising vaccines, antibody treatments, and other efforts to combat the virus.

McLellan and Wrapp received recognition for work with scientists in Belgium and elsewhere to engineer an antibody produced by llamas to be used in the fight against coronavirus.

The two Texas scientists also collaborated with researchers at the National Institutes of Health's Vaccine Research Center to develop a stabilized spike protein now used as an antigen in many leading vaccines to fight the current coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2.

McLellan and Wrapp's work accounted for two of three projects that received 2020 Golden Goose Award recognition, marking the first time a scientist has received recognition in more than one Golden Goose Award.

"These dedicated academic researchers and their colleagues provided the vital foundation that was necessary for many of the vaccines and treatments that hold great promise for humanity today," Paul Goldbart, dean of UT Austin's College of Natural Sciences, said. "It is fortunate for us all that, not only was the seed corn of basic research planted long ago, here at The University of Texas at Austin and beyond, but that these scientists have worked tirelessly all year to ensure the arrival of vaccines, treatments and knowledge to curb the coronavirus crisis."

In this year's award announcement, organizers noted that it is too soon to know the full impact of the winners' research, but "recipients demonstrate how scientific advances resulting from foundational research can help respond to national and global challenges."

Each year the award honors scientists whose research may have sounded odd or obscure when first conducted but has since resulted in significant benefits to society.

The Golden Goose Award was created by a coalition in 2012 as a counterpoint to criticisms of basic research as wasteful federal spending, a notion once embodied by the so-called Golden Fleece Awards given by the late Sen. William Proxmire.

Rep. Jim Cooper of Tennessee initiated the idea for the Golden Goose Award, and he indicated that COVID-19 provides an opportunity to appreciate science and the need to ensure "more scientists can do more great work to help lead our nation, our world and our universe forward."

Two fellow winners of the 2020 Golden Goose Award, Kizzmekia Corbett and Barney Graham of the National Institutes of Health's Vaccine Research Center, collaborated with McLellan and Wrapp on both the stabilized spike protein work and the llama antibody research.

Other winners this year included Emmie de Wit and Vincent Munster at the NIH and James Crowe at the Vanderbilt Vaccine Center.

The honorees will be recognized at a virtual awards ceremony on Tuesday at 3 p.m.

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