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Catalyzing Inquiry at the Interface of Computing and Biology
means. Funding levels in these areas ought to be established on a level-of-effort basis (i.e., what the agency believes is a reasonable level of effort to be expended in this area), by taking into account the number of researchers doing and likely to do good work in an area and the potential availability of other avenues to improved computing. In addition, programmatic continuity for biologically inspired computing should be the rule, with playing rules and priorities remaining more or less constant in the absence of profound scientific discovery or technology advances in the area.
The impact of computing on biology can fairly be considered a paradigm change as biology enters the 21st century. Twenty-five years ago, biology saw the integration of multiple disciplines from the physical and biological sciences and the application of new approaches to understand the mechanisms by which simple bacteria and viruses function. The impact of the early efforts was so significant that a new discipline, molecular biology, emerged, and many biologists, including those working at the level of tissues or systems and whole organisms, came to adopt the approaches and even often the techniques. Molecular biology has had such success that it is no longer a discipline but simply part of life sciences research itself.
Today, the revolution lies in the application of a new set of interdisciplinary tools: computational approaches will provide the underpinning for the integration of broad disciplines in developing a quantitative systems approach, an integrative or synthetic approach to understanding the interplay of biological complexes as biological research moves up in scale. Bioinformatics provides the glue for systems biology, and computational biology provides new insights into key experimental approaches and how to tackle the challenges of nature. In short, computing and information technology applied to biological problems is likely to play a role for 21st century biology that is in many ways analogous to the role that molecular biology has played across all fields of biological research for the last quarter-century—and computing and information technology will become embedded within biological research itself.