Creative Research Medal
Thirty years ago, eagles were discovered dying of a mysterious disease in the southeastern U.S. Susan Wilde, associate professor of aquatic science, led a team to investigate. Eventually they found a clue: invasive aquatic plants called hydrilla, which are abundant in the manmade lakes and reservoirs where affected eagles and other waterfowl were discovered. Working with agencies and other universities, Wilde’s team discovered a novel cyanobacteria harbored by hydrilla that produces a neurotoxin, now known as aetokthonotoxin, which was responsible for the vacuolar myelinopathy affecting birds of prey. More recently, working with collaborators in Germany, the team connected the final puzzle pieces: exposure of the cyanobacteria to bromide resulted in production of the deadly neurotoxin. The resulting paper, published in “Science,” was awarded the AAAS Newcomb Cleveland Prize in 2022. Through this interdisciplinary, career-defining project, Wilde helped solve a medical mystery decades in the making.