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Suggested Citation:"Appendix A: Statement of Task." National Research Council. 2008. The Role of Theory in Advancing 21st-Century Biology: Catalyzing Transformative Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12026.
Page 187

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Appendix A Statement of Task The Board on Life Sciences will convene an ad hoc committee to identify and examine the concepts and theories that form the foundation for scientific advancement in various areas of biology, including (but not limited to) genes, cells, ecology, and evolution. It will assess which areas are “theory-rich” and which areas need stronger conceptual foundations for substantial advancement and make recommendations as to the best way to encourage creative, dynamic, and innovative research in biology. Building on these results, the study will identify major questions to be addressed by 21st-century biology. The project will focus on basic biology, but not on biomedical applications. Questions to be considered by the committee may include: • What does it mean to think of biology as a theoretical science? • Is there a basic set of theories and concepts that are understood by biologists in all subdisciplines? • How do biological theories form the foundation for scientific advancement? • Which areas of biology are “theory-rich” and which areas need stronger conceptual foundations for substantial advancement? • What are the best ways to bring about advances in biology? • What are the grand challenges in 21st-century biology? • How can educators ensure that students understand the founda- tions of biology? 187

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Although its importance is not always recognized, theory is an integral part of all biological research. Biologists' theoretical and conceptual frameworks inform every step of their research, affecting what experiments they do, what techniques and technologies they develop and use, and how they interpret their data.

By examining how theory can help biologists answer questions like "What are the engineering principles of life?" or "How do cells really work?" the report shows how theory synthesizes biological knowledge from the molecular level to the level of whole ecosystems. The book concludes that theory is already an inextricable thread running throughout the practice of biology; but that explicitly giving theory equal status with other components of biological research could help catalyze transformative research that will lead to creative, dynamic, and innovative advances in our understanding of life.

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