For Mark Cook, discovery, like life itself, starts with the egg.
“There is so much more to the egg beyond its use as a food,” says Cook, a professor of animal sciences.
Cook has explored and developed those other uses throughout a career marked by research prowess and entrepreneurial acumen. His technologies based on egg antibodies have been used for everything from enhancing animal growth and health to developing alternatives to antibiotics in food animals.
Many of his discoveries have had dramatic implications for human health through our consumption of meat and other animal products. His more direct innovations for human health include breath biosensing technologies that detect the onset of infections in critically ill patients as well as in animals. One of those infections is septic shock, which is responsible for more than 200,000 deaths each year.
Cook has turned his research and some 40 U.S. patented technologies into start-up companies worth many millions of dollars. They include Aova Technologies, which improves animal growth and feed efficiency; Isomark, based on technology for early detection of infection in human breath; Conlinco, providing products using conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) for improved animal health and feed efficiency; and Ab E Discovery, the newest, offering antibody-based technology as a replacement for antibiotics in food animals.
He also serves as a mentor to other entrepreneurs. Cook was a key player behind Discovery to Product, an initiative by UW–Madison and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) to help commercialize technology created by faculty, staff and students.
Despite his towering status, Cook devotes time and attention to undergraduates. He’s a founding member of the Midwest Poultry Consortium, which runs a summer program providing poultry instruction to students from 13 states. He employs a half-dozen undergrads in his lab and teaches several beginning classes, including Animal Sciences 101.
“Teaching beginning undergraduates a course like this requires me to broaden my worldview and the materials that I read and study,” says Cook. “In doing so, my view toward my own research is more comprehensive.”
And then there’s the magic of teaching itself.
“Each student has different aspirations and passions, and as a teacher, I can help them discover those things that motivate them most. Watching the students’ ‘lights come on’ is the most exciting part of undergraduate education,” says Cook.