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A New Biology for the 21st Century
committee’s view, one of the most exciting aspects of the New Biology Initiative is that success in achieving the four goals chosen here as examples will propel advances in fundamental understanding throughout the life sciences. Because biological systems have so many fundamental similarities, the same technologies and sciences developed to address these four challenges will expand the capabilities of all biologists.
The committee suggests that a New Biology approach to the areas of food, the environment, energy, and health will require support for work at different scales, and from basic science to industrial application. As described in chapter 2, the New Biology has the potential to make significant contributions to addressing problems in each of these areas. In each area, the committee has suggested a challenge that is beyond the scope of any one scientific community or federal agency: for food, to generate food plants to adapt and grow sustainably in changing environments; for the environment, to understand and sustain ecosystem function and biodiversity in the face of rapid change; for energy, to expand sustainable alternatives to fossil fuels; and for health, to achieve individualized surveillance and care. The committee’s descriptions are meant to be evocative, not prescriptive. The first, and critical, step in designing New Biology programs in these four areas would be to bring to the table all of the stakeholders who could contribute, including scientists and engineers from many different communities, representatives of the relevant federal agencies, and private sector participants from both the commercial and non-profit sector. This step alone––bringing together the diverse talent and resources that already exist and giving them a mandate to plan a long-term, coordinated strategy for solving concrete problems––will already provide significant momentum to the emergence of the New Biology.
The committee does not provide a detailed plan for implementation of such a national initiative, which would depend strongly on where administrative responsibility for the initiative is placed. Should the concept of an initiative be adopted, the next step would be careful development of strategic visions for the programs and a tactical plan with goals. It would be necessary to identify imaginative leaders, carefully map the route from ‘grand visions’ to specific programs, and develop ambitious, but measurable milestones, ensuring that each step involves activities that result in new knowledge and facilitates the smooth integration of cooperative interdisciplinary research into the traditional research culture.
Implementation of a national New Biology Initiative project does not require creation of a new agency; coordination of the resources already existing in the academic, public, and private sectors is the goal. Estimating the cost of such an Initiative is beyond the scope of this committee, but for the purpose of providing a relative scale, the Interagency Working Group overseeing the National Plant Genome Initiative estimated that the program would require $1.3 billion to fund its programs from 2003 to 2008 ($260 million/year)(NSTC,