National New Biology Initiative

It’s a bit sad that my first reaction was to cringe when I received this NAS news release excitedly touting the National New Biology Initiative,

a new multiagency, multiyear, and multidisciplinary initiative to capitalize on the extraordinary advances recently made in biology and to accelerate new breakthroughs that could solve some of society’s most pressing problems — particularly in the areas of food, environment, energy, and health. …

The committee used the term “new biology” to describe an approach to research where physicists, chemists, computer scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and other scientists are integrated into the field of biology to create the type of research community that can tackle society’s big problems. “‘The new biologist’ is not a scientist who knows a little bit about all disciplines, but a scientist with deep knowledge in one discipline and a ‘working fluency’ in several,” the report says. To be sure, biologists are already working successfully in many instances with other scientists and engineers. But for collaborations to take advantage of advances in imaging, high-throughput technologies, computational science and technology, and others, a major new initiative is needed, the committee concluded.

The national new biology initiative should have a timeline of at least 10 years and funding in addition to current research budgets, and it should be an interagency effort to reflect the interdisciplinary approach to research, the committee emphasized. The report also underscores the importance of making information technologies a priority in the initiative given that information is the “fundamental currency” of the new biology. …

The report says that by targeting society’s major challenges, the initiative would provide an opportunity to attract students who want to solve real-world problems to scientific fields. The initiative will need to devote resources to interdisciplinary education to support the training of new biologists, the report adds.

You can, as usual, read the report — A New Biology for the 21st Century: Ensuring the United States Leads the Coming Biology Revolution — online for free and download the prepublication PDF.

You can also view a PowerPoint presentation by the co-chairs of the Committee on a New Biology for the 21st Century, Thomas Connelly of the DuPont Company and Phillip A. Sharp from MIT, where you’ll learn that the Initiative’s goals are to “Propel science to a new level” and “Provide solutions to pressing societal problems” and become inspired by the sense of tension and excitement the slides generate:

  • A moment of unique opportunity — Current research has brought biology to an inflection point
  • An opportunity for New Biology with impact at an unprecendented scale
  • New Biology could affect urgent problems
  • Mission: sustainable local food production
  • Mission: halt and reverse ecosystem damage
  • Mission: sustainable alternative to fossil fuels
  • Mission: individualized health surveillance and care
  • One biology: same science supports all four missions

Wow. So nice to know that “New Biology” is on the case. Wonder what the rest of us have been mucking about doing all these years … in the meantime, possibly yet another grant-writing gimmick to work into my repertoire if they do manage to carve out a mega interagency budget to solve the world’s ills.

8 Comments »

  1. BB said

    “‘The new biologist’ is not a scientist who knows a little bit about all disciplines, but a scientist with deep knowledge in one discipline and a ‘working fluency’ in several,”

    What does that mean???

    • bikemonkey said

      Nonbiologists want in on some o dat “health” related money that Congress keeps throwing…..

  2. D said

    “But for collaborations to take advantage of advances in imaging, high-throughput technologies, computational science and technology”

    Hmm. Don’t we already have NHGRI (http://www.genome.gov/) NCBI (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/) and NBIB (http://www.nibib.nih.gov/) to do this? They are already in Bethesda together. Perhaps we can have them get together for sushi once a week and chat.

  3. BB said

    D, that’s just too obvious.

  4. Snarktastic.

  5. writedit said

    Science has a more positive take on the initiative … guess after a couple of decades of this, I’m getting a tad jaded … and an inkling of the funding level:

    One possible model is the U.S. Global Change Research Program, says panelist Anthony Janetos of the University of Maryland, College Park. Although the report includes no price tag, its discussion of similar projects points to a total budget of at least $2 billion a year.

    We have a US Global Change Research Program? Since Jan 20, 2009 perhaps?

  6. […] folks, go forth and reinvent yourselves (and don’t forget about the National New Biology Initiative as you do […]

  7. ken said

    This is a policy paper, really. This new biology is, for all practical purpose, is old biology with a twist or a new hat, if you like. I am working on this project.

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