Ernst Rutherford is attributed with saying “Biology is akin to postage stamp collecting” (1903). This quote reflects the sentiment that Biology is a descriptive science without predictive models. With a few notable exceptions, e.g., Population Genetics, most biological sub-disciplines continue to be largely descriptive. In the last 20 years collaborations involving biologists, engineers and informaticists have resulted in development of high throughput bio-technologies that can generate and catalogue data on every genomic base, transcript, protein, metabolite and all of the interactions among these entities at every stage in the growth and development of an organism. The emergence of these incredible technical capabilities prompted the National Research Council to commission a panel to develop a set of recommendations for biological research in the 21st Century.
The resulting recommendations are focused on providing solutions to societal challenges in personalized medicine, food production , renewable energy and environmental integrity. To successfully address these grand challenges will require transdisciplinary approaches that will transform biology from a descriptive to a predictive science. In particular, modelers from the physical science and engineering disciplines will be essential intellectual partners.
The Plant Sciences Institute has always fostered multi-disciplinary approaches to plant science because we recognize that novel solutions to scientific challenges come from research partners working at the interfaces of scientific disciplines. ISU has the intellectual and technological capabilities to provide leadership in addressing the grand challenges of biology. In anticipation of emerging federal funding initiatives to address the grand challenges, the PSI is actively promoting and supporting trans-disciplinary team development through competitive Requests for Proposals in both team building and team enabling activities.
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