Dear President Bush:
At no time in our history is science more important in our society and thus to your administration than now. We have made exciting and promising advances in so many areas of scientific and medical research yet we still have so much to learn. This is especially true in the rapidly growing field of genomics.
In just the last 10 years we have gone from having the complete genetic map of just a few microbes to today having completed the sequencing of more than 100 organisms. With the genetic material in hand of organisms such as human, mouse, and fruit fly, researchers now have the opportunity to understand these complex creatures so that we may one day better treat disease, fully understand evolutionary biology, and thus understand the most fundamental aspects of life and how we as humans function.
The future is indeed bright but only if we have a science-literate administration to help translate this basic research into potential treatments. With these great advances also come tough ethical issues. But we must not become mired in these debates nor let fear and ignorance win out over progress for us all. While I cannot accept the offer to be science advisor I would like to outline a few ideas for your administration to consider.
There are three key areas that need immediate attention:
• 1) Revamping the health care system using genomics and other predictive tools to move toward a preventative medicine based system.
• 2) Stepping up our efforts in developing deterrents and defensive mechanisms to overcome the biological warfare threat to humans and agriculture.
• 3) Moving as rapidly as possible toward a hydrogen-based economy.
Our health care system is suffering from double digit inflation while the number of uninsured and underinsured continues to rise beyond any acceptable level for a civilized nation. We have now the potential to dramatically change the cost of health care by using the new predictive tools that will come from the genomics revolution. It is imperative that we make the commitment to go the less costly route of preventing and limiting the extent of disease rather than treating symptoms after they occur as we do now.
On this same preventative theme we can greatly diminish or effectively eliminate the threat of bioterrorism by using the modern tools of genomics to more quickly and accurately detect a suspect agent including genetically modified organisms; develop new effective vaccines without the risk profile associated with current small pox and anthrax vaccines; and develop new effective antivirals and antibiotics.
While your administration has made great progress in providing new funding for these efforts, more direct funding for the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID) at the NIH will move this field faster.
Despite much discussion on the topic of alternative energy solutions, the United States continues to rely almost exclusively on fossil fuels. According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) approximately 80 percent of all human-caused carbon dioxide emissions currently come from fossil fuel combustion. The DOE also estimates that world carbon dioxide emissions are projected to rise from 6.1 billion metric tons carbon equivalent in 1999 to 7.9 billion metric tons per year in 2010 and to 9.9 billion metric tons in 2020.
This continued consumption of fossil fuels is ample evidence that there is a growing need to eliminate carbon dioxide output into the environment and capture back some of the carbon dioxide associated with global warming. Recent climate modeling from Scripps Institute of Oceanography suggests that if climate change is allowed to continue unabated a temperature increase of just two degrees will be enough to dramatically reduce annual snowfall and ultimately food production due to the drought that will develop in our most important agricultural states.
As a nation we must invest in finding new solutions for our energy needs. I believe that genomics could provide a viable avenue for alleviating some of the problems associated with carbon-based fuels.
I believe it is imperative that we push forward on all the fronts outlined above to insure energy independence, national security, and an improved environment, health and well-being for future generations.
J. Craig Venter
Pioneer in sequencing the human genome
President of the Center for the Advancement of Genomics
President and Chairman, J. Craig Venter Science Foundation