Investigative Interventions

Robert V. Duncan

Dr. Robert Duncan,
Vice Chancellor for Research

THE NYCTICEBUS KAYAB, a.k.a., Kayan slow loris, featured on Illumination’s cover is one of several species of conspicuously cute South Asian primates that move at what might generously be described as a deliberate pace. In a darkly ironic twist, these unhurried creatures have recently rocketed to fame as unwitting stars on YouTube, a development that has led to the rise of a cruel — and illegal — trade in lorises as exotic pets.

Even before their debut as Internet sensations, the slow loris was threatened by habitat loss and poaching. Whether they survive this latest challenge is an open question, but there is hope that recent scientific developments, led by an MU doctoral candidate, may help.

The student, Rachel Munds, has determined that the genetic family tree of the slow loris can be divided into four distinct classes, a taxonomic breakthrough indicating they are much more diverse than previously thought. “Four separate species are harder to protect than one, since each species needs to maintain its population numbers and have sufficient forest habitat,” Munds says. But, she adds, our better understanding of lorises’ vulnerabilities should add urgency to efforts to end their exploitation.

Using science to help us make better decisions works on many levels, and in this edition of Illumination you will encounter a range of MU researchers working to shed light on equally compelling issues. You’ll meet a renowned wheat expert, for example, a man who has spent a long career working with the world’s most prominent plant scientists to hasten an end to the centuries-old scourge of recurring famine. You will encounter a nursing scholar who is working to understand how the stress of low-income, rural pregnancy affects the health of mother and child; discover an anthropologist who has shown that public forms of scientific discourse can influence, albeit subtly, the direction of scientific investigations; and learn how thinking systematically about physical activities in parks may be the key to getting millions of sedentary Americans moving.

These investigations and others, all examples of big-picture thinking with potentially national and international implications, show that university-based scientists, scholars and students are in no way sequestered behind the ivy walls of academe. They are instead perhaps our single best hope for a better world.

Robert V. Duncan

Vice Chancellor for Research

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