Friday, June 02, 2006


Harvard has decided to emphasize biotechnology in its future plans, and Reuters seems to think it is a gamble:

CAMBRIDGE, Mass (Reuters) - As Harvard University searches for a new leader, questions loom over its last president's most ambitious project: turning America's oldest university into the nation's hub for life sciences.

During his 5-year tenure as the university's president, former U.S. Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers worked to put Harvard at the forefront of research on how the human cell works, a question the school's founders and the Massachusetts Bay Colony's Puritan leaders would have kept in the province of religion alone.

(Pastorius question: Is this, at all, true?)

Nearly four centuries later, Harvard's plans -- which include building a new campus of buildings -- fit well with Massachusetts' desire to rejuvenate its economy by encouraging biotechnology firms to replace the region's long-fading manufacturing base.

"For Boston to survive (it) is by being on the cutting edge of new ideas and technology," said Harvard economics professor Edward Glaeser, who is also director of the Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston, a research group. "And the vision Larry Summers has for Harvard is that it would play a major role in the life sciences and not sit this one out."

Harvard announced plans to break ground next year on a 500,000-square-foot (46,450-square-metre) science complex that will house its Stem Cell Institute.

There, scientists will try to create cloned embryonic stem cells -- master cells that can grow into almost any tissue in the body. Some scientists say stem cell research may one day yield a cure for Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease.

In the United States, scientists say East Coast institutions like Harvard are competing with researchers on the West Coast, primarily in California at universities like Stanford and the University of California, San Francisco.

"Harvard has a unique opportunity to make a real difference in huge global problems such as health care that are going to require the different parts and pieces to work together," said John Lechleiter, who earned his Ph.D. from Harvard and is now president of drug maker Eli Lilly & Co. "I think Allston is a unifying concept for all of that."

"We are at the beginning of a 50-year process," said Christopher Gordon, chief operating officer for the Allston Development Group, which oversees planning of the project.

I excised A LOT of political bullshit from this article, because I wanted to focus only on the idea at hand. Suffice it to say, Reuters figured out a way to hammer Bush, even in an article on biotechnology.

I have to say, I am very glad to see that Harvard is making this move. Biotechnology (including nanotechnology) and computer science (including robotics and bionics) are the future. Stanford, as this article notes, has already taken note. Harvard, as one of our major Ivy League Colleges must follow suit. There is no gamble here. It is really either this or Harvard passes into the dustbin of history.

By the way, stem cells are not the only hope for the future of biotechnology. As important as stem cell research is, there are many other important innovations and applications in the field of biotechnology. The subfields of biotech are:

Red biotechnology is biotechnology applied to medical processes. Some examples are the designing of organisms to produce antibiotics, and the engineering of genetic cures to cure diseases through genomic manipulation.

White biotechnology, also known as grey biotechnology, is biotechnology applied to industrial processes. An example is the designing of an organism to produce a useful chemical. White biotechnology tends to consume less in resources than traditional processes when used to produce industrial goods.

Green biotechnology is biotechnology applied to agricultural processes. An example is the designing of transgenic plants to grow under specific environmental conditions or in the presence (or absence) of certain agricultural chemicals. One hope is that green biotechnology might produce more environmentally friendly solutions than traditional industrial agriculture. An example of this is the engineering of a plant to express a pesticide, thereby eliminating the need for external application of pesticides. An example of this would be Bt corn. Whether or not green biotechnology products such as this are ultimately more environmentally friendly is a topic of considerable debate.

Bioinformatics is an interdisciplinary field which addresses biological problems using computational techniques. The field is also often referred to as computational biology. It plays a key role in various areas like functional genomics, structural genomics, and proteomics amongst others, and forms a key component in biotechnology and pharmaceutical sector.

The term blue biotechnology has also been used to describe the marine and aquatic applications of biotechnology, but its use is relatively rare.

Study of DNA has proven that "switches" within the genes may be turned on and off, which causes the gene to alter the processes within the biological entity (read animal or plant). These switches can stop, or slow down the aging process, fight, or eliminate susceptibility to disease and mental conditions, and alter the physical or psychological makeup of a human being.

Scientists are just learning about these swtiches, and are just beginning to learn how to throw them.

It is possible, even likely, that in the future, drugs will individually designed to be used to treat the problems of any given human being, depending on his or her genetic makeup.

These things, Reuters does not talk about. I would assume that's because in their hatred of America and George Bush, they have not been paying attention.

Oh, by the way, America is the leader in biotechnology. Here is a list of 2003's top ten biotech companies. 8 out of the 10 are American-founded and America-based corporations:

The top 10 publicly-traded biotechnology companies, ranked by 2003 sales, are: [1]
Biogen Idec
Chiron Corporation
Millennium Pharmaceuticals
Applied Biosystems

Cough. Scoff.