Kenneth I. Shine
President, Institute of Medicine
Even though biology has made enormous progress in the last portion of the 20th century, the 20th century will be known as the century of physics and astronomy. Early in the century came e = MC2 and quantum mechanics. Those concepts stimulated the application of physics to atomic energy. We believed that we could put someone on the moon, and we did it. The space program continues to excite the nation.
But the 21st century will be the century of the life sciences in all their ramifications. That includes not simply the use of molecular biology and genetics in human health, but the whole range of application of the life sciences—advances in agriculture, in animal husbandry, in cloning, in bioremediation to solve environmental problems, in the applications of biology in space, and so on. Dan Goldin, head of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, has launched a new astrobiology program. Molecular biology might make it less expensive for the chemical industry to use organisms to generate new compounds than to produce them in large vats.
The life sciences include the behavioral sciences and the social sciences. When you consider that 50% of America's health-care bill is for illnesses that are produced by inappropriate behavior—alcohol and other substance abuse, violence, inappropriate sexual behavior—you can imagine that these are subjects in which there will also be enormous effort and that they include many related ethical issues.
The programs that we are celebrating today represent some of the very best in the transition of the life sciences to new frontiers. The next great frontier in the 21st century will not be in space, but will be the human mind—the capacity to relate to biology, emotions, behavior, thinking, and a variety of fundamental aspects of what makes intelligence. Some of the imaging programs that the Department of Energy (DOE) has supported use scanning technology to understand emotion, phantom pain, and various behavioral disorders.
We have seen a remarkable degree of reductionism in the last portion of the 20th century. We will need to begin to reintegrate what we know about genes and gene products into structure. This includes protein structure, the structure of the cell, and the structure of organs. DOE programs have included programs in structural biology that are on the cusp of this reintegration.
I hope you saw the synthesis pieces released by the Academy Complex, Preparing for the 21st Century, which contained 6 policy statements. One focused on the environment and the human future. The report says that, ''for human societies to achieve a productive, healthful, and sustainable relationship with the natural world, the public and private sectors must make environmental considerations an integral part of decision making.'' We believe that, and we believe that studies undertaken by the Board on Sustainable Development, the Board on Biology, and the Commission on Life Sciences are relevant to that charge.
A major challenge for our society remains how to convey the idea of risk, not only for environmental but for medical reasons. The public understanding of risk remains fuzzy.
I am particularly pleased that the Academy Complex this summer will be hosting representatives of 11 academic health centers for a 5-day institute in which they will be joined by their colleagues from the public schools in a joint activity to apply the new science standards and to learn about hands-on teaching and how to achieve systemic change in public education. I hope you as individuals and collectively will support our efforts in K-12 education; without an educated public that understands risk, probability, and science, we will be hampered in carrying out major programs.
In the report on the environment (one of our synthesis pieces), there is an interesting discussion of the defect in the ozone layer and the work of Sherry Rowland. I mention that as a reminder that when Dr. Rowland, who received the Nobel Prize for this work, started to try to understand the events that led to the evidence of a hole in the ozone layer, he was not asking an applied question at all. He was interested in how some types of hydrocarbons are metabolized or degraded in the environment. Pursuing science—pursuing knowledge—eventually led him and his colleagues to the recognition of a problem in the atmosphere. It is in that context that the tradition of DOE—trying to support and sustain the highest-quality science, which can be translated into technologies that help all of us—makes the agency and your programs particularly important.
Congratulations on your work. I look forward to a very interesting meeting.