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A New Biology for the 21st Century
the emergence of a New Biology approach that would enunciate and address broad and challenging societal problems. The committee focused on examples of opportunities that cannot be addressed by any one subdiscipline or agency—opportunities that require integration across biology and with other sciences and engineering, and that are difficult to capitalize on within traditional institutional and funding structures. Fully realizing these opportunities will require the enabling of an integrated approach to biological research, an approach the committee calls the New Biology.
The essence of the New Biology, as defined by the committee, is integration—re-integration of the many sub-disciplines of biology, and the integration into biology of physicists, chemists, computer scientists, engineers, and mathematicians to create a research community with the capacity to tackle a broad range of scientific and societal problems. Integrating knowledge from many disciplines will permit deeper understanding of biological systems, which will both lead to biology-based solutions to societal problems and also feed back to enrich the individual scientific disciplines that contribute new insights. The New Biology is not intended to replace the research that is going on now; that research, much of it fundamental and curiosity-driven by individual scientists, is the foundation on which the New Biology rests and on which it will continue to rely.
Instead, the New Biology represents an additional, complementary approach to biological research. Purposefully organized around problem-solving, this approach marshals the basic research to advance fundamental understanding, brings together researchers with different expertise, develops the technologies required for the task and coordinates efforts to ensure that gaps are filled, problems solved, and resources brought to bear at the right time. Combining the strengths of different communities does not necessarily mean bringing these experts into the same facility to work on one large project––indeed, advanced communication and informatics infrastructures make it easier than ever to assemble virtual collaborations at different scales. The New Biology approach would aim to attract the best minds from across the scientific landscape to particular problems, ensure that innovations and advances are swiftly communicated, and provide the tools and technologies needed to succeed. The committee expects that such efforts would include projects at different scales, from individual laboratories, to collaborations involving many participants, to consortia involving multiple institutions and types of research.
Many scientists in the United States are already practicing the integrated and interdisciplinary approach to biology that the committee has called the New Biology. The New Biology is indeed already emerging, but it is as yet poorly recognized, inadequately supported, and delivering only a fraction of its potential. The committee concludes that the most effective way to speed the emergence of the New Biology is to challenge the scientific community to discover solutions to major societal problems. In the chapter entitled “How the New Biology Can Address Societal Challenges” the committee describes four broad challenges, in