Why Do Basic Research? Why do scientists study model organisms?

c.elegans  Dmel1 flip_53234379_escherichia-coli   yeast

Human beings are very complex multicellular organisms (metazoans), but our cells contain the same fundamental materials as those of all living things. Researchers can learn an abundance of knowledge about how our cells work by studying simpler organisms. Because cells vary in size, shape, and specific functionality, scientists choose cells with special features, which make it easier to study a specific biological problem or process. The “why?” or motivation for using model organisms is always to obtain an improved general understanding of biological processes that occur in or influence humans.

To solve any problem it is almost always essential, barring random chance, that you understand every fundamental basic component of a given system and understand exactly how each smaller piece functions and communicates with all of the other parts in order to make the system work properly.

Basic research strives to do exactly this: to understand all of the essential parts and fundamental cellular processes, which together as an integrated, communication, memory and functional processing network give rise to a fully functional healthy organism.

atom    DNA_chrom_Cell

Basic biomedical research has been essential for modern medical advances in patient care and in the discovery of new medical treatments. Though we generally think about human biology as being special, complex and separate, our cells contain many of the same fundamental components (proteins, DNA and RNA), cellular processes, and metabolic pathways as those of all living things.

ribo_elong_trna  proteins          Euk_Plan Organization_Baby

Basic biomedical research, though many mistakenly think is only about studying “a single simple organism” and therefore has no relevance to human health or disease, has expanded our understanding of the fundamental molecular and cellular processes underlying the very existence and propagation of all cellular life as well as what defines a healthy cell and what causes a particular disease.

Solving complex biological problems, especially those concerning how treat a particular human disease, necessitates a thorough understanding of essential DNA, RNA, proteins, enzymes and cellular processes and how biochemical and cellular mechanisms can malfunction in ways that lead to a particular disease, such as cancer.

Multicellular organisms thrive when all their cells function in accordance with the rules that govern cell growth and reproduction. Cancer is just one example of cells breaking the rules of biology. Our current understanding of cancer has been achieved through many basic biomedical research discoveries.

Researchers who asked the question, “Why does a normal cell suddenly start breaking the rules, dividing recklessly, consuming metabolic resources, invading surrounding tissues, and later killing the organism it lives inside?”, have made discoveries that have greatly expanded our understanding of cancer.

Who funds basic research? 

The National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Science Foundation (NSF), Department of Energy (DOE) and other government agencies. Over 80% of the NIH’s funding is awarded through over 50,000 grants and more than 300,000 researchers at more than 2,500 universities, medical schools, and other research institutions in every state and around the world.

How does basics research costs compared to total health care costs?

According to the National Institutes of Health, though basic research is an investment in the future, it “is a relatively inexpensive investment compared to the cost of health care. In 1990, all health-related research and development, including drug development by the pharmaceutical industry, amounted to 3.7 % of the total U.S. health care costs. It has been estimated that the basic research cost was less than 1% of total health care costs.”

Who performs basic research performed? 

Most of basic research in the United States is conducted at universities and colleges and is funded by the federal government.

What is the role of are basic research in improving health?

During the 20th century, average life expectancy in the United States rose from 47 years to more than 76 years. Much of this increase, particularly in recent decades, is the result of medical advances stemming from basic research.

Watch this video to learn about just one example of how basic research has lead to human health advances: http://youtu.be/GmhD-RWNL6c

Unexpected advances though basic research from FASEB: http://youtu.be/byaP2GetnM4

Why is basic research spending decreasing?

Overall, federal spending for research in the sciences as a percentage of the government’s budget has decreased in recent decades (from above 10 percent in 1964 to less than 6 percent today). What’s worse, the private sector isn’t making up for this disparity because although companies do invest in science, they generally emphasize development versus basic research. Funding for basic research has dramatically declined in the United States, while in China, basic research has increased at least threefold within the last decade.

Though President Obama has been very supportive of funding basic research as well as R&D funding, our new GOP majority, in the House and Senate, have been relentlessly attacking basic research funding by trying to pass excessive funding cuts, which threaten both basic research and R&D.

In addition to proposing funding cuts for basic research, “the GOP-dominated House has passed a bill that effectively prevents scientists who are peer-reviewed experts in their field from providing advicedirectly or indirectly — to the EPA, while at the same time allowing industry representatives with financial interests in fossil fuels to have their say”. This bizarre move is strangely supposed to be for the purpose of “transparency” which is beyond irrational. If we get a GOP president in the next election, basic research funding is only going to get worse.

Make sure you know the voting record of each presidential candidate, as it pertains to basic research funding and R&D budgets, when making your decision about who has the best interest for basic research funding.

Human lives are depending on it.
Read more: House Passes Bill that Prohibits Expert Scientific Advice to the EPA | Inhabitat – Sustainable Design Innovation, Eco Architecture, Green Building

Do we have evidence that research & development helps our economy?

Yes, economists have found that every 0.5 percent spent on R&D returns 9.5 percent GDP growth. Furthermore, publicly funded research is particularly good at producing a high return on investments.


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