The MU biochemistry professor has led groundbreaking research on the soybean
A conversation with: Gary Stacey (Click here to the original story)
BY HUDSON KYLE (Vox magazine)
Much of Gary Stacey’s research hinges on the soybean. The bean is Missouri’s No. 1 crop and the No. 1 vegetable oil in the U.S. Photograph by Harry Katz.
According to a Michigan State study, only 28 percent of adults in the U.S. are considered literate when it comes to science. American students are falling further behind their international peers in mathematics and science testing.
Gary Stacey, an biochemistry professor at MU, says it’s odd that technology is developing at a rapid pace and the world is becoming so much more technologically engaged, yet in many ways, we’re doing a poor job educating people and preparing them for this change.
Stacey and a team from the MU Legume-Microbe Interactions Laboratory hold an annual professional development workshop for Missouri high school science teachers. The workshop offers both the practical knowledge and the physical tools needed to conduct plant experiments in the classroom.
Stacey has led groundbreaking research of the soybean, Missouri’s top cash crop, in his lab, one of the largest on MU’s campus. His research has helped explain what makes the soybean more resilient to adverse growing conditions and contributed to the completion of the soybean genome sequence, which determines an organism’s DNA makeup.
How did you first discover your passion and knack for science?
I think one of the key characteristics of a scientist is curiosity. My dad tells me that when I was a little kid, he used to take me fishing. Instead of fishing, I would be turning over all the rocks. I just wanted to know what was underneath the rocks. Basically, what I’m doing now is turning over rocks, just in a different way. I think a key characteristic is curiosity. If you’re curious, you find ways to maintain that. Science does that for me.
Much of your research involves the soybean. Explain the plant’s significance.
It shouldn’t be hard to understand the importance of the soybean. In most of the Midwest, corn is the No. 1 crop. In Missouri, the soybean is the No. 1 crop. It’s the No. 1 crop in value. It’s the No. 1 crop in acreage. So it’s a very, very important crop.
What do you think the consequences will be if the U.S. science literacy rate continues to decrease
When you talk about the three countries that are fastest growing, you’re talking about Brazil, India and China. Huge investments are taking place there. Especially the Chinese are making huge investments in education, and it’s having an impact.
The fact that we’re an economic power feeds into the fact that we’re a military power, which feeds into the fact that we have geopolitical influence. If we lose our economic power by falling behind, which we already are, then that will affect our military stature and will also undermine our geopolitical influence. That will probably create instability in the world.
What is the goal of your teacher-training workshop?
Our major objective is to try to get more plant science-related experiments and teaching into the classroom. So often in the classroom, they’ll use an environmental example, or they’ll use a human medical example. That’s all well and good, but we would like to see more plant science being taught. The other objective of these workshops is that I engage my post-doctoral associates. They’re in the laboratory. They’re doing the experiments. But most of them have never had experience in trying to teach clientele like high school teachers.
We’re also able to buy supplies, so the teachers who participate in our workshop actually go home with a big box of stuff. We even get them a light stand they can put in their classroom to grow plants. We provide them with potting materials and seeds and everything they need. It’s all provided for them.
What drives you to give back to the community in the form of this workshop?
It’s fun. You only get one go-around. I wish I realized when I was younger that basically you get one bite at the apple. The other thing is that humans are social animals. You really find that your most enjoyment is dealing with other people. So if you can interact with other people and feel good about what you’ve done, it’s just fun. That’s really what it’s all about. I’m talking about the fun that makes you feel good about yourself.
Missouri just doesn’t invest in schools the way it should. Here in Columbia, a lot of our students until recently were being educated in trailers. I just don’t understand why we don’t make more of an investment.