Exactly Is Biocomplexity?
this expedition is being primarily funded through a grant from
the National Science Foundation, Biocomplexity Program,
I wanted to make sure that each and every one of you visiting
site and participating in Extreme 2004 understands
what biocomplexity means.
interplay between life and its environment is complex. Biocomplexity
arises from the multitude of behavioral, biological, social,
chemical, and physical interactions that affect, sustain, or
are modified by living organisms, including humans. From cells
to cities to the global ecosystem, all systems associated with
life exhibit biocomplexity. The
National Science Foundation has taken on an exciting new direction
of challenging the scientific community to collaborate across
disciplines under the umbrella of Biocomplexity. The idea is
that with collaboration, we can better understand the complex
interplay of biological, chemical, and physical components
of the environment. Research on biocomplexity asks questions
as diverse as: How do systems with living components (such
as people) respond and adapt to stress? Are adaptation and
change predictable? How will climate change affect species' ranges?
Can we forecast the combined effects of changing climate and
socioeconomic change? How does diversity (species, genetic,
cultural) affect system stability?
these NSF Biocomplexity projects have to address questions
that span disciplines and collectively involve scientists fluent
in those disciplines that are willing and excited about crossing
the lines. Sounds easy? Well, consider taking the head coaches
from two sports at your school - say , basketball and football
-- and telling them one day that they had to suddenly switch.
What would make this very difficult is that in their sports,
they speak very different languages - and in sports, like
science, communication is everything - without
interaction is impossible.
Our team's greatest challenge has and will be communication
because our sciences have rarely interacted. Why, you might
called "moving out of your
comfort zone." Scientists
love to focus in and understand some natural phenomenon -- many
might spend the better part of their entire life on one subject.
They can easily become the world's expert! But to move marginally
outside that discipline is often a daunting task. Our group
has certainly felt the growing pains of having to learn the
language of each of our new colleagues' science, but it is
clear that the rewards are considerable.
team (only some are on the ship) consists of a group of researchers
interested in microbial ecology, geochemistry, functional genomics
(what and how genes work), bioinformatics (using computers
to allow us to look at and analyze data), and proteins (how
proteins adapt to high temperature). In order to keep up with
what each of us is doing and to learn the new languages,
we have a virtual meeting (conference call) every week. The
project we are working on involves understanding how a microbial
community on the back of the Pompeii worm interacts and adapts
changing environment. To do this, since the bacteria can not
be grown in culture, we must use genomic technologies borrowed
from the Human Genome Project.
These technologies allow us to understand what the bacteria
can do (genetically) and what they are actually doing in order
to survive in this extreme environment. This project will require
the time and energy of 20 investigators for 4 years to achieve
this objective. More on this later. I would suggest that you
take a look at the NSF Biocomplexity Web
page to see just how NSF defines biocomplexity and the diversity
of projects currently supported. Can you come up with your
own Biocomplexity research questions? Explain how they fit
into NSF's definition.