As a layman I will ask a naive question

Jessie Micales jmicales at
Sat Sep 21 08:23:07 EST 1996

>For example , Why do some of you folk study to death, at
>great cost, An organism that has different "ploidy"
>characteristeristics.....[snip] I

Hi Gary.  A valid question - one, in fact, that many research administrators 
ask!  What you are getting down to is the difference between "applied" and 
"basic" research.  The reason for doing applied research is fairly obvious - 
the ultimate goal is to come up with a product (that can be sold in the 
marketplace) or solve an immediate pressing problem (that is probably costing 
someone money somewhere).  The reasons for basic research are a little bit more 
subtle.  We need a large pool of basic research to understand how things work. 
Then when a problem comes along, we can apply our fundamental knowledge to it. 
Basic research gives us the tools to unravel the problem that applied research 
can solve.  It's like having a large library available. If we don't have the 
basic information, we can miss many possible solutions to a problem or the 
thought of certain marketable products would never come to mind.

For example, all this talk about sequencing DNA, restriction fragment length 
polymorphisms, and all these other molecular procedures sounds awfully basic,  
but they can result in very applied and monetarily important results.  Using 
these techniques, plant pathologists can take a single fungal spore and 
identify it to species for some fungi - the ones that have been worked on by 
the "basic" scientists.  In the case of Tiletia indica, the karnal bunt 
organism, this can mean the difference between selling your wheat or having 
your wheat and your farm quarantined.  The detection of certain plant pathogens 
can have great impact on the national economy since some countries will ban US 
grains entirely if they suspect that a certain pathogen is in the shipment (or 
they will demand a greatly reduced price).  This is just one of many examples 
where basic research has ultimately resulted in tools that take on a very 
applied use.

Jessie Micales
Forest Products Lab
Madison, WI

More information about the Mycology mailing list