New Report Links Emerging Technologies to the Biosciences
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Major advances in science, including the biological sciences, have often been stimulated by the application of new technologies to specific challenges, according to a just released report: Impact of Emerging Technologies on the Biological Sciences. The report identifies the technologies that will likely have an impact on future biological research, and is the result of a workshop sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF)'s directorate for biological sciences in June 1995.
Biologists are exploring new ways to foster the development and use of advanced technologies to solve fundamental challenges in the biosciences. "In some cases, major developments in one field have been applied with great success to another area," says Mary Clutter, assistant director of NSF for biosciences. "This interdisciplinary crossfertilization has become a hallmark of American science."
Continues Clutter, "The revolution occurring in the biological sciences is based on the fact that today, biological information can be deciphered and manipulated at exponentially increasing rates." Breakthroughs have often been stimulated by efforts to develop technologies to solve significant research problems that were previously technology-limited. For example, the size and complexity of the genetic material that controls the form and function of living systems required dramatic developments in technology to map, sequence, and analyze DNA. Now, microfabrication technologies that combine silicon wafer material with solid- phase chemical array methods have made it possible to screen matrices of specific DNA sequences rapidly, and with small sample sizes.
Biology is at a crossroads, says the report. The biological sciences have lagged behind other sciences such as physics and chemistry in the large-scale application of advanced technology to research problems. Over the past 20 years, however, technology has increasingly demonstrated its potential to catalyze revolutionary breakthroughs in the biological sciences. From the scanning tunneling microscope to gene cloning technology to the remote sensing satellite, emerging technologies have stimulated new research and even spawned new industries. Now, continues the report, new technologies are emerging which give promise of yielding similar rapid advances in the biological sciences, if they can be incorporated both into research and education in a timely and effective way.
More advanced, automated tools are on the horizon, based on the development of new nanofabrication and analysis methods using hybrid technologies from biology, chemistry, materials science, physics, engineering, and computer science. "The common denominator in the majority of significant advances has been the optimal application of technology to a particular challenge," says Clutter. The report identifies emerging areas of technology likely to have significant impacts on biological research, and also those research problems that are currently technology-limited, such as the measurement and manipulation of chemical and molecular processes in living systems.
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