The First Revolution: Molecular and Cellular Biology

“The first biological-science revolution involved the use of molecular and cellular biology to understand cells and diseases. In the 1950s, new x-ray diffraction techniques allowed Watson and Crick and Franklin to discover the structure of DNA, which led to molecular and cell biology:  discoveries of proteins and other driving forces in the cell which, in turn allowed researchers to probe inner workings of diseased cells; to better understand diseases at the molecular, “hardware” level inside the cell, and to advance understanding of cancer and other diseases.  In the 1970s, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) set up basic science centers for cancer research. By the 2000s, university-trained scientists had joined biotechnology companies like Genentech, Biogen and Amgen, which developed new treatments for cancer, multiple sclerosis, hepatitis, and created tens of thousands of jobs.”


DNA Structure Discovered


Salvador Luria, theorist of molecular biology, awarded the Nobel Prize


Biotech sector emerges with founding of Genentech

The Second Revolution: Genomics

The second major revolution in life science research in recent decades is the genomic revolution. It encompasses a drive to study an organism's entire genome—reading the basic DNA sequence, identifying the physical location of discrete genes, and understanding intragenomic phenomena. If the molecular biology revolution enabled diseases to be understood at the molecular, "hardware" level inside the cell, the genomics revolution enabled an understanding of the "software" that drives cell processes. In the 2000s, Department of Energy funding of projects to apply supercomputing to genetics research led to a “genomic revolution”—in which scientists study an organism’s entire genetic makeup—reading the basic DNA sequences and “mapping” the human genome.  As time went on, genome research shifted to the National Institutes of Health. Advances in genomic data have allowed scientists to identify genetic foundations of many diseases, and to begin developing new treatments for patients based on each individual’s unique genetic makeup and disease subtype—thus cutting down on costly, ineffective medication and side effects.


Human Genome Project
Celera publish working draft of human genome

mid 2000s

Academic sectors start exploring Convergence


NAS releases A New Biology Report

The Third Revolution: Convergence

Today, we are reaping the benefits of a “Convergence” revolution, in which tools, methods and concepts and processes of chemistry, physics, engineering, computer science, material sciences and engineering are increasingly used in biological research—and in which, conversely, life scientists’ understanding of complex evolutionary systems is influencing physical science and engineering.  As a result of this revolution, biomedicine has seen major developments in fields such as imaging, biomaterials, nanotechnology, bioinformatics, and cellular engineering.  In agriculture, the tools of synthetic biology are being used to tailor food products to meet specialized dietary needs.  In the energy arena, researchers and companies are working on fuels produced directly from carbon dioxide. To protect the environment, scientists are developing biodegradable plastics made from renewable biomass and biosensors to monitor environmental changes. The Convergence Revolution holds the potential to change the course of human existence.


BRAIN Initiative announced by White House

DARPA establishes the Biological Technologies Office


Precision Medicine Initiative announced by White House