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A New Biology for the 21st Century

A New Biology for the 21st Century is the expert consensus report authored by a committee organized by the Board on Life Sciences of the National Research Council and cosponsored by the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, and U.S. Department of Energy.

The report notes how new technologies and tools are allowing biologists to move beyond the study of a single cell, genome, or organism to look broadly at whole systems and, in collaboration with other branches of science and engineering, to solve societal problems.

Through the New Biology, integration across the subdisciplines of biology, across all of science, and across agencies and institutions leads to a better understanding of biological systems in order to create biology-driven solutions to societal problems related to food, energy, the environment, and health. The knowledge and experience gained through developing and testing solutions, in turn, informs science for many purposes to predict and respond to new challenges.

To bring this new potential to fruition, biologists, in collaboration with other scientists, engineers, and mathematicians, need to fully integrate tools, concepts, and information that were previously discipline-specific to enhance understanding and to propose new ways to tackle societal challenges.


Imagine a world, members of the Committee on New Biology for the 21st Century suggested in their consensus report, in which food is abundant; the environment is resilient and flourishing; energy comes from clean, renewable sources; and good health is the norm (NRC, 2009).

To reach this point, the committee called for a “New Biology” initiative that it defined as a collaborative, interdisciplinary approach to biological research to address goals that no one discipline in isolation can achieve: for example, to adapt any food plant to any growing conditions and to expand sustainable alternatives to fossil fuels. In addition, the report called for the initiative to be “an interagency effort, that it have a timeline of at least 10 years, and that its funding be in addition to current research budgets” (p. 7). Since the report’s release in August 2009, committee members have presented their findings and recommendations

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