industry grew rapidly, fueled in part by the enthusiasm of Wall Street for the possibilities associated with new markets. New investment from the private sector flowed quickly into the life-science enterprise, increasing both the quantity of scientific research and the perception that such work could be of value to the American people. In 1996, the number of life-science PhDs granted was 7,696; in 1997, federal investment in health research exceeded $14 billion. Private foundations contributed $1.2 billion to biomedical research in 1997, and industry's investment in health research and development exceeded $17 billion (NSF 1996, appendix table 4-31). Meanwhile, the country's investments in plant science and agriculture had also grown: during 1995, USDA invested $1.4 billion in research and development, and industry's investment in agriculture and forestry was $3.5 billion. The life-science research enterprise had become economically important.
In the recent decades, the various sectors of employment for life scientists have expanded at different rates. The fastest growth has occurred in industry, where the number of life-science PhDs has increased from around 5,500 in 1973 to nearly 24,000 in 1995, an average annual increase of almost 7%. During the same period, the pool of postdoctoral fellows and non-tenure-track staff at academic institutions has grown from about 4,000 to over 20,500, an average annual increase of 7.6%. In contrast, federal-laboratory and other government employment has shown modest growth; and the number of life scientists holding faculty appointments in universities and colleges has increased from 28,500 in 1973 to only about 49,000 in 1995, an average annual increase of only 2.5%. Universities remain the largest employers of life-science PhDs, but their share of the pool has diminished substantially during the last two decades (see appendix table F.8 for details).
Our country's investment in the life sciences has produced many important results. Discoveries in agricultural science have improved our understanding of soils and their chemistry and have led to the development of new strains of crop plants that are resistant to diseases and that yield more food per cultivated acre. Such work has contributed to the low cost of food that our country now enjoys. Environmental sciences and forestry have evolved new methods for sustainable managing resources that will help our expanding population to pass on more of its natural wealth to future generations. Medical science has provided fundamental understanding of the molecular basis of numerous diseases, which has led to the elimination of some and the containment of many. Not only preventive approaches, like proper nutrition and immunization, but diagnostic techniques and ameliorative treatments—drugs, surgery, radiation, and physical therapy and psychotherapy—have reduced human suffering and prolonged and enriched human life. Advances in molecular biology not only have spawned the biotechnology industry, which is contributing to the American economy, but also have contributed fundamental knowledge about the structures of genes and the behavior of biologic macromolecules. These advances are yielding new insights into the relationships among organisms and about the continuum of structure and function that connects living and nonliving things. (For more specific examples of the fruits of progress in the life sciences, see chapter 4.) The long-range implications of all this rapidly evolving knowledge are hard to predict, but many additional benefits are now on the horizon.
The spectacular successes of the life sciences have emerged from a professional structure that evolved to meet the needs stemming from rapid growth. The lives of professors, industrial biologists, agricultural and medical researchers, postdoctoral fellows, and graduate students in the