TRUTH about US R&D SPENDING from BRITISH NATURE

lightnje at esvx19.es.dupont.com lightnje at esvx19.es.dupont.com
Sun Apr 21 13:04:40 EST 1996


In article <4l8ubv$3l1c at b.stat.purdue.edu>, hrubin at b.stat.purdue.edu (Herman Rubin) writes:
Dr Rubin argues against government funding for science and provides numerous
esamples from many fields, I'd like to take on this one.
>
>STUFF DELETED...  The first complete DNA structure of a
>bacterium was done by someone who was defunded because the "experts"
>believed his method would not work. 

>Herman Rubin, Dept. of Statistics, Purdue Univ., West Lafayette IN47907-1399
>hrubin at stat.purdue.edu	 Phone: (317)494-6054	FAX: (317)494-0558

	He's refering to the first bacterial genomes completed by Craig Venter
and company of The Institute for Genomic Research.  I think Venter's move to
TIGR and the work that he's inspired there and elsewhere is actually an
EXCELLENT EXAMPLE of the COMPLIMENTARY roles played by both government and
non-government research.
	Government funding if highly effective at supporting the sort of
basic and exploratory research that:
	1) makes it possible to sequence DNA.
	2) makes it apparent that it's worthwhile.

	Private or Industry funding is excellent at investing a huge amount
of resources and confidence in a few people with ideas that either make 
sense or can be sold well and letting them do what they want for some 
period of time before deciding if it was worthwhile.

	As I've heard the story told (and a clarification from somebody at
TIGR is welcome) Venter was having a lot of trouble convinceing people at
NIH that his approach would work.  So extending a lot of work made possible
by basic, government funded research, Venter convinced somebody to give 
him the money to set up what is in many ways a FACTORY.

	(I'll risk inciting a riot here:)

	SEQUENCEING A GENOME IS NOT SCIENCE, it's technology.  It's 
tremendously powerful, and tremendously useful, but it's what you do with
the sequence that is the "science".  The most exciting and potentially 
widely important science going on at TIGR is probably not sequencing, it's
probably INFORMATICS!  Where there being forced to develop a lot of new ideas
about how to manage huge amounts of sequence data so it can be USED for
SOMETHING.

	So my point is.  TIGR is using sequencing chemistry that was pioneered
in government funded labs to sequence clones that were made by techniques that
were developed in government funded labs.  There achievement is great and
awesome but I seriously doubt they'd tell you that government has no role
in research.  What government has trouble funding is a no-holds barred, 
brute-force effort, to get a job done that needs doing, a job that is not
particularly elegant or scientifically attractive.  Non-governmentals are
probably better at funding this sort of very focused goal oriented work.

	If we built and funded another 10 TIGRs we could sequence a couple
hundred bacterial genomes.  What then?  This is the question that NSF and 
the like are much better at handling.

	Hoping government stays in Science,
	And hoping that science is BASIC,

	Jon Lightner
	Post-Doc
	(speaking for myself)




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