December 2009

A New Biochemistry


Earlier this fall, the National Research Council released “A New Biology for the 21st Century,” a report calling for a new national biology initiative. The report, authored by a committee of the nation’s leading biologists, envisions a new interagency approach to biological research that would augment existing research programs and tackle societal problems related to food, the environment, energy and health.

For more information

• To view the National Research Council report, “A New Biology for the 21st Century,” go to

• For more science policy news, information and opinion, visit the ASBMB Policy Blotter at

New Prominence

With an array of established theories and techniques that will help address the New Biology initiative’s societal challenges, biochemistry is likely to take on a central role in this initiative.

To guide the New Biology initiative’s research program, the committee outlined four societal challenges involving food, the environment, energy and health. According to the report, the New Biology initiative investigators should be tasked with (1) adapting any food plant to any growing conditions, (2) diagnosing and repairing ecosystem damage, (3) expanding sustainable alternatives to fossil fuels and (4) achieving individualized health surveillance and care.

While biochemistry will be crucial in the creation of personalized medicine, its role will extend beyond human health. For example, adapting food plants to new growing conditions will require knowledge of the biochemical traits required for survival in different climates.

New Biochemists

As the New Biology initiative utilizes biochemistry to solve major societal problems, initially the ranks of biochemists are likely to expand from collaborations. Previously trained biologists, in fields not traditionally associated with biochemistry, will seek out collaborations with biochemists to tackle a problem.


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