This post was contributed by ESA’s Director of Public Affairs, Nadine Lymn.
Today the National Research Council, a division of the National Academies, released a report that calls for a new biology initiative to tackle some of the nation’s most pressing challenges, including food and energy production, environmental degradation, and human health. The report, “A New Biology for the 21st Century“, calls for the collaboration of biological, physical, and social scientists, mathematicians and engineers, using recent advances in biology to address some of society’s most pressing problems. This ambitious national initiative, according to the report, should be on par with America’s quest to put a man on the moon in the 20th Century.
Committee participants Phillip Sharp of MIT, Anthony Janetos of the Joint Global Change Research Institute and Keith Yamamoto of UC-San Francisco gave an overview of the report this morning at the National Academies. Among their messages: we need an increased investment in the life sciences to address some of society’s most pressing problems, and we have a unique opportunity for cross-discipline integration with the physical, computational, and other sciences to address some of our most urgent problems.
The thread of ecology weaves through each of the four major challenges identified by the report. The food challenge is to achieve sustainable, local food production and understand crops as ecosystems. The environmental challenge is to halt and reverse ecosystem damage from pollution, over-harvesting, habitat fragmentation, and climate change. The energy challenge is to develop a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels, and the health challenge is individualized health surveillance and care, including an individual’s environment, history, micro-biome, genotype and physiology.
The report makes four recommendations:
(1) Launch a National New Biology Initiative to achieve solutions to societal challenges in food, energy, environment, and health.
(2) Make the Initiative an interagency effort with a 10-year timeline and funding in addition to current agency budgets.
(3) Develop information sciences and technologies that are critical to the New Biology.
(4) Develop interdisciplinary curricula, graduate and educator training needed to create and support New Biologists.
The report’s release is exciting to many who for years have been advocating for greater support for collaborative research and tools needed to address major society challenges. The panelists noted that they have already had conversations with White House officials about the report.
Biologists have a great opportunity to get engaged and help move the ideas of this report forward with their fellow scientists, Congress, and the Obama Administration.
The National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and Department of Energy supported the report. Read the full report here.