March 19, 2007 - Press Release: Basic Bacteriology Research: a Pressing Need

WASHINGTON, DC—March 19, 2007—The need for basic research in bacterial physiology and genetics continues to be demonstrated, even more so today because of the growing appreciation of the significant role bacteria play in human health and the environment, infectious and chronic diseases, nutrition, alternative energy production and basic understanding of biology and genetics. Important new opportunities for research on bacteria are outlined in the report, “Basic Research on Bacteria: The Essential Frontier” issued by the American Society for Microbiology (ASM), Public and Scientific Affairs Board. This report presents the results of a workshop on basic bacterial research convened by the ASM and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to address several issues, including the research community’s perception that the number of researchers being trained in basic bacterial physiology and genetics is inadequate to current and projected needs.
 
The past President of ASM, Stanley Maloy, Ph.D., who spearheaded the organization of the workshop, expressed optimism about its outcome. “Scientific knowledge of microbes and basic life processes of bacteria are key to new discoveries that will benefit human life and the environment. Scientific opportunities in important areas of bacterial physiology and genetic research should receive increased attention and funding.”
 
The more than 60 participants in the workshop, held November 3-4, 2005, consisted of representatives from industry, academia, and the federal government. The participants discussed the importance of these research areas for biotechnology, pathogenesis and biodefense applications, and the increasing understanding of the role of bacteria in many chronic diseases.
 
The report points out that, because bacteria are ubiquitous and have such diverse metabolic capabilities, knowledge of their capabilities influences essentially all disciplines of science and is instrumental for understanding fundamental life processes of all organisms. Bacteria provide readily used experimental systems to understand the complex metabolic and regulatory networks that control these processes. Many of the success stories arising from new technologies such as genomics and proteomics have resulted from new research directions in microbial physiology and genetics, justifying increased investment in the study of these organisms.
 
However, many in the research community perceive that funding for basic research, including bacteriology, has leveled off. The report also acknowledges concerns that the emergence of large, multi-investigator initiatives as an alternative to individual investigator initiated research (R01 grants) might be causing an imbalance at the expense of research by smaller groups.
 
The report outlines an education based strategy for building broad based support for basic research in microbiology, with an intensive focus on informing the public of its value. “Public understanding of bacterial research and its importance to progress in the life sciences is essential,” said Maloy. If you would like a copy of the report please e-mail: publicaffairs@asmusa.org.

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