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May 19, 2021

Editor's note: Digging for clues


I love a good mystery. I have since I was a kid. When I was little, “Scooby-Doo” was my favorite cartoon, and I devoured the “Encyclopedia Brown” and “Nancy Drew” series. As I got older, I moved into longer books with puzzles to crack, crimes to solve and suspense that kept me up at night. I have always loved digging for clues not matter what I’m doing. Whodunit movies and those with surprise endings are some of my favorites — even if I often have them figured out before the big reveal, much to the consternation of my husband.  


I was thrilled when my sisters and I discovered a puzzle within the walls of our childhood home, though the resolution to that one probably isn’t as exciting as we had hoped. And while I love solving puzzles, I discovered I also loved creating them when I organized a couple of staff scavenger hunts.


So, you can imagine how incredibly interested I was when, years ago, I first learned about the ongoing seed experiment that is not only part of MSU lore but important ongoing research. Renowned MSU botanist William J. Beal buried bottles with seeds in them 142 years ago with instructions that they be dug up periodically to see if the seeds were still viable.


What makes this even more fascinating is that the location of the bottles is secret, with just a few trusted plant biologists passing down the information through the years. They sneak out under cover of night with a map and search for the buried treasure.


I cannot tell you how jealous I am every time I learn that it’s another year for testing and the secret-keepers once again don their headlamps, grab their shovels and go on a way cooler scavenger hunt than I’ve ever organized.


This was one of those years. In the early morning hours on a cold day in April, a small team of researchers went out to the secret location and came back with a bottle buried more than a century ago. And, while I wasn’t lucky enough to go along, I am thrilled that a photographer and videographer were invited on the hunt and captured the very moment of discovery.


You absolutely must read the fascinating MSUToday feature Unearthing a scientific mystery and watch the video to learn more about the project and witness the dig. After all, don’t you want to know whether they got any seeds to grow? Despite what my husband is probably thinking, I won’t ruin the ending here.


When you think about it, isn’t all scientific research based on a mystery? I imagine all scientists start their life’s work questioning something, wondering how something works or imagining something never done before. Once they pose the questions, then they set out to solve them. One thing that isn’t a mystery to anyone is that Spartans are problem-solvers doing incredible work every day.


In the past week alone, we’ve released stories about a long-term study on bees, building better beans to feed the future and creating a new type of ‘nanoscopy’ to investigate materials like never before. Every one of those research projects must have started with an enigmatic question and a mystery to solve.


Perhaps third-year medical student Jennifer Chinchilla Perez loved mysteries as a kid too. She’s grown up into a determined Spartan looking to solve problems of social determinants of health and health disparities like language barriers. Read her Student view: ‘Lost in Translation’ to learn about her work.


Assistant Professor stef shuster is also working to make sure people receive the level of medical care they deserve. Read the Faculty voice: Treating trans youth to learn more about bias in clinical encounters and other concerns.


There is an infinite number of mysteries in the world before us. Our charge, as Spartans, is to step forward and be the people who solve them. You don’t have to be part of a secret nighttime trek to be a puzzle-solver. Never stop sleuthing, digging for clues, questioning the status quo or seeking out better tomorrows. We have the power to change the world. Spartans Will.


Lisa Mulcrone 

Editor, MSUToday


Photo by Derrick L. Turner

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