PULLMAN, Wash. – Washington State University geneticist Patricia Hunt, who was called “the accidental toxicologist” by Scientific American magazine, will discuss “Science by Accident” 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 3, in Smith CUE 203.
The public is welcome to attend the lecture that is part of WSU’s Common Reading Tuesdays program and relates to this year’s book, Being Wrong, by Kathryn Schulz.
For a quarter century, Hunt has researched how age affects a woman’s ability to produce genetically normal eggs. Fifteen years ago at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, she was conducting studies with mouse eggs when she saw a sudden and very dramatic change in the data for control animals. After a significant amount of sleuthing, she realized that a temporary worker in the animal facility had used the wrong detergent in the cage washer, inadvertently exposing her animals to the endocrine disrupting chemical, bisphenol A (BPA).
This was long before BPA became a household word, and this little mistake, she says, changed the course of her research and ultimately forced her into new and uncomfortable arenas like talking to the media, legislators and the general public.
Bisphenol A history
BPA was first synthesized in 1891 by a Russian chemist and products using BPA-based plastics have been in commercial use since 1957. BPA has been used in baby bottles, sippy cups, in medical and dental devices, and as coatings for food and beverage cans. Hunt discovered its effects in 1998; the topic is still debated in some scientific and commercial circles.
Her findings, reinforced by other scientists, has had far-reaching impact. In 2012 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration prohibited using BPA in baby bottles and children’s drinking cups, and several states, the District of Columbia, Canada, and other jurisdictions have adopted restrictions on the use of the chemical. Twenty-seven new pieces of legislation on the subject are slated in 16 states this year.
In Hunt’s home state, Washington, S.B. 6248 prohibits the manufacture, sale or distribution of BPA-containing empty bottles, cups, or other food or beverage containers used by children under age three effective July 1, 2011. It also prohibits the manufacture, sale or distribution of empty BPA-containing sports bottles up to 64 ounces after July 1, 2012.
Scientific American’s top 50 researchers
In 2007, Hunt was named to Scientific American’s list of the top 50 researchers in the country.
She earned her Ph.D. in reproductive biology in 1983 from the University of Hawaii. Recognizing demonstrated excellence in her field, Hunt is an Edward Meyer Distinguished Professor in the College of Arts and Sciences. She is on faculty in the School Molecular Biosciences in the College of Veterinary Medicine. Hunt’s lab work in the Center for Reproductive Biology focuses on mammalian germ cells.
“Hunt’s story plays so perfectly into the content of Being Wrong that it could have been used as an example in the book,” says Karen Weathermon, co-director of the Common Reading Program. “Her experience is a perfect example of how something going wrong can lead to discovery. We’re very excited for her to share such a relevant topic.”
Schulz’s book is in use by thousands of WSU students in dozens of classes across disciplines. The author will be in Pullman Feb. 24, 2014, to visit with students and faculty.