rice genome mark major advances along the way to understanding plant behavior and the opportunities to exploit that knowledge. The rice genome carries particular import for the world’s food supply because an estimated 4 billion people will depend on rice as their dietary staple in the year 2030. The A. thaliana sequencers predict that the plant has about 25,500 genes, and they have assigned tentative functions to around 70 percent of them. As in the human genome, the complete plant genome enables researchers to compare its DNA sequence with DNA sequences from other plants to identify key genes in cash crops. Plant researchers have set a goal of understanding the function of all plant genes by the end of the decade, which would greatly enhance biotechnologists’ ability to generate new genetically altered forms. Those data would then serve as the basis for a virtual plant, a computer model that would enable the simulation of plant growth and development under different environmental conditions.
For centuries, a sharp demarcation separated the physical and biological sciences, breached only by an occasional discipline such as biophysics. Today, interdisciplinary research is the norm in many industrial laboratories, and not just in the physical or the biological sciences. To a growing degree, research teams may now include representatives from both. Researchers seek to translate biomolecular recognition into useful nanomechanical devices. Geoscientists are exploring genomics for useful clues to solving problems. Cooperative efforts by biologists and engineers seek to create new robots. Some scientists wonder whether deciphering biosignaling in cells will lead to applications in computer science, and others ponder whether the emerging discoveries of brain science will revolutionize information technology. One can expect a greater breaching of the traditional barriers between physical and biological research and a strengthening of biophysical research during this decade—in industry, government, and academic laboratories.
One promising area is the interaction of biotechnology and materials science. Biological systems have been used to create two- and three-dimensional inorganic nanoscale structures and assemble gold and semiconductor nanoparticles on a DNA template. Such work aims at goals like nanoscale wires, mechanical devices, and logic elements, as well as creating organic-inorganic compounds. The potential from utilizing the knowledge and skills of biotechnologists and materials scientists includes creation of new molecular switches and transistors, nanosensors, catalytic devices, and opto-electronic components. IBM researchers have demonstrated that molecular recognition between a piece of DNA and its complementary strand can translate into a mechanical response, namely, the bend-