In the October 2010 issue of the journal BioScience, Robert Gropp reports on a recent congressional hearing exploring the potential of biology to contribute to the solution of societal problems and to stimulate new economic opportunity. An excerpt from the article, “Congress Learns about 21st Century Biology,” follows:

Last year, the National Research Council (NRC) issued A New Biology for the 21st Century: Ensuring the United States Leads the Coming Biology Revolution. Described by some scientists as biology’s “moon shot,” the 112-page report makes a case for new research and funding models that can stimulate fundamental discovery and solve complex problems in the areas of environment, energy, agriculture, and health. Policymakers have since begun to consider the report’s recommendations.

In June, shortly after the House of Representatives passed its version of the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010—legislation to reauthorize the National Science Foundation (NSF) and several other federal science programs—the chamber’s Subcommittee on Research and Science Education convened a hearing to examine the future of the biological sciences. Spurred in part by the NRC report, the hearing considered how potential scientific advances can be translated into technologies that benefit society, and how to prepare researchers to thrive in areas of research that do not fit easily into a single academic department.

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