University of Missouri

Jeffrey Milyo

Clash of Cultures on the Medical Frontier

Thursday, Sept. 17, 2015 – 4 p.m.

William Folk
Professor of Biochemistry
Adjunct Professor of Public Health

Stotler Lounge, 103 Memorial Union North
Reception to follow

This year’s distinguished speaker is University of Missouri Professor William Folk, leader of a team of scientists and physicians who conducted pioneering studies of African traditional medicines. The team collaborated with KwaZulu-Natal traditional medical practitioners to research medicines used by South Africans for HIV and tuberculosis infections and other health problems. Folk will describe some of their findings and reflect on the scientific and cultural conflicts between traditional and Western medical practices.

“Bill Folk commands the attention of all serious scholars who are dedicated to the role of science and improving health and human welfare.” —Brady Deaton, MU Chancellor Emeritus

Folk, professor of biochemistry and adjunct professor of public health, has dedicated much of his research at MU to examining the indigenous botanicals used to treat infectious diseases and other health problems, and to improving crop plants used for food security. These efforts have forged important connections between MU and colleagues in Africa, Asia and at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis.

“Bill is an outstanding professor and discoverer who firmly believes that nature has thousands of secrets yet to be discovered,” says Brian O’Connell, former rector and vice chancellor at the University of Western Cape, which contributed to the seminal work on traditional medicines. “Bill’s work ethic and meticulous adherence to detail, together with his pursuit of discovery without compromising the health and safety of patients, sets a high bar for extraordinary research into human health everywhere.”

Folk has been part of MU’s faculty for 25 years, teaching courses in the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources; the School of Medicine; and the Honors College. He served as chairman of the Department of Biochemistry and as senior associate dean for research at the medical school. Folk also served twice as president of MU’s chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, an academic honor society.

Folk received Mizzou’s 2012 Outstanding Undergraduate Research Mentor Award for sponsoring students in research. He has mentored more than 30 students for advanced degrees while leading postdoctoral training programs. Folk also directed Student Research Training Programs through the School of Medicine and the MU Summer Breast Cancer Research Training Program.

In addition to his higher education work, Folk contributes to K-12 science education outreach efforts, including a stint as director of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute K-12 Science Education Program. He currently leads the ShowMeInaBox K-12 Science Education Program funded by the Missouri Foundation for Health and the Saigh Foundation.

“Bill Folk has been an inspiration to me and many other teachers and students in Missouri,” says Dan Miller, Hickman High School science department chair. “He has demonstrated a true commitment to improving science literacy, and continues to search for creative ways to help us implement the next generation of science standards in our classrooms.”

Folk earned his bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from Rice University with high honors. He completed his doctorate in biochemistry at Stanford University, where he trained with Nobel Laureate Paul Berg, who is credited with helping develop recombinant DNA technology. Folk received additional training as a recipient of competitive fellowships from the Woodrow Wilson Foundation and the Helen Hay Whitney Foundation.

Folk began his career as a faculty member in the biological chemistry department of the University of Michigan Medical School. Before moving to Columbia with his wife, Martha, and their daughters, Jennifer and Torrey, he served on the faculty of the University of Texas at Austin.

“Dr. Folk’s continued research is inspiring the next generation of biochemistry researchers and will lead to discovery of novel therapeutic approaches using traditional herbal medicines, not only for treating and retarding HIV disease, but also for other human diseases,” says Professor Dennis Lubahn, director of the MU Center for Botanical Interaction Studies and professor of biochemistry and child health.

The annual Corps of Discovery Lecture features an outstanding MU faculty member to commemorate the contributions of the Lewis and Clark expedition and to inspire and unite the university community. Reinforcing “discovery,” one of the university’s core values, the lecture is intended to represent MU’s diverse academics in science, art, humanities, law, medicine, engineering, education, journalism and business.