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6 Findings and Recommendations The new era of genomics is opening doors to an unparalleled realm of research questions, and polar scientists are poised to make great advances. This chapter discusses how to move forward on those questions and focuses on two issues: the important roles that genomic technology (and related enabling technologies) stand to play in polar research and the appropriate means for making these approaches available for a diverse community of research scientists. The recommendations span a wide range of considerations, including mechanisms for providing the neces- sary financial and logistical support for polar research, strategies for iden- tifying optimal study systems, means for improved integration of research programs in Arctic and Antarctic regions, and improvements in the infra- structure of education, to broaden awareness of the importance of polar biology and, ultimately, increase participation in polar research. The challenges posed by the recommended actions are substantial. Yet, if these challenges are met successfully, polar biological research will attain a new level of sophistication and enhance its ability to make vital contri- butions to a wide range of disciplines, ranging from biomedicine to climate change. A NEW UNIFYING APPROACH TO POLAR BIOLOGICAL RESEARCH Finding 1: Genome science is an addition to, not a replacement for, other approaches to the study of polar biology. The applica- 128
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FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS lion of new genomic technologies has the potential to be a unify- ing paradigm for polar biological sciences. Key opportunities include the following: 129 · Polar organisms and communities offer unique opportunities to study evolution using genome sciences. · The use of genomic methods will give insights into the effects of global change on polar biota and biogeochemistry. · Genome sciences have vast potential for elucidating function in microbial communities. · Polar genome sciences could make broad contributions to bio- medicine and biotechnology (for example, cryopreservation, cryosurgery, and cold functioning enzymes). · A polar genome research initiative will provide important new information on the evolution, physiology, and biochemistry of polar organ- isms. Such information not only enhances our understanding of how polar ecosystems function, but also helps our search for life in icy worlds. Recommendation 1-1: The National Science Foundation (NSF) should develop a major new initiative in polar genome sciences that emphasizes collaborative multidisciplinary research and co- ordinates research efforts. The polar genome science initiative could facilitate genome analyses of polar organisms and support the relevant research on their physiology, biochemistry, ecosys- tem function, and biotechnological applications. Recommendation 1-2: A new polar genome initiative should capitalize on data from existing Long-Term Ecological Research and Microbial Observatory sites to take advantage of the long- term datasets and the geographical distribution of these sites. Additional approaches may be taken so that research can be con- ducted at sites with comparable conditions at both poles. For example, there is currently no marine site in the Arctic. COORDINATION IS ESSENTIAL Finding 2: To facilitate the advancement of polar genome sci- ences, coordination of research efforts will be required to ensure efficient transfer of technologies, provide guidance to researchers on choosing organisms for genome analyses, and help in the development of new scientific initiatives. Coordination of research efforts should begin with syntheses of the available information, thereby avoiding duplication of research efforts. It should facili-
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130 FRONTIERS IN POLAR BIOLOGY IN THE GENOMIC ERA late increased communication among the polar scientists and also with nonpolar scientists who have expertise in genomics and other technological advances applicable to polar studies. Recommendation 2: NSF should form a scientific standing com- mittee to establish priorities and coordinate large-scale efforts for genome-enabled polar science (for example, genome sequencing, transcriptome analysis, and coordinated bioinformatics databases). VIRTUAL GENOME SCIENCE CENTERS Finding 3: Genomic technologies, both those currently available and those anticipated in the future, are applicable to some of the key questions in polar biology. However, the technical demands of genome science often transcend the resources of any individual researcher. Recommendation 3: NSF should support some mechanism to facilitate gene sequencing and related genomic activities beyond the budget of any individual principal investigator, such as vir- tual genome science centers. The purpose of the virtual centers would be to provide infrastructure for individual researchers and to facilitate technology transfer among researchers. New infra- structure is not needed, rather some type of coordinating body (e.g., University National Oceanographic Laboratory System, Ocean Drilling Program). ENABLING TECHNOLOGIES Finding 4: Enabling technologies are critical to the successful application of genomic technologies to polar studies. Recommendation 4: Ancillary technologies such as observato- ries, ice drilling, remote sensing, mooring and autonomous sensors, and isotope approaches should be developed to support application of genomic technologies to polar studies. INCREASING AWARENESS AND EDUCATION Finding 5: Polar systems play important roles in global-scale phe- nomena, and there is a need for enhanced flow of information about polar biology to a wide audience of scientists, policymakers, and the general public.
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FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS Recommendation 5: NSF should continue its efforts to make information about polar regions available to teachers, schools, and the public. Short- and long-term plans should be developed for increasing public awareness of polar biology. In the near future, postdoctoral fellowships in polar biology could be set up to encourage young scientists to enter the field. Long-term plans should include continued efforts to incorporate polar biology in college and K-12 curricula. IMPEDIMENTS TO INTEGRATED POLAR SCIENCE Finding 6: Impediments to conducting multidisciplinary inte- grated polar science exist, including administrative, fiscal, and infrastructure issues: 131 · Coordination among directorates within NSF and coordination among agencies are both essential for advancing polar biology. · International collaborations are vital for all polar research. Cur- rent procedures make the involvement of international scientists in U.S. polar biological projects difficult. · Attempts to conduct comparative research at both poles can be difficult. Although NSF's Office of Polar Programs supports research in both poles, grant applications for Arctic and Antarctic research have to be made to two separate NSF research programs. Research proposals often undergo two reviews, and scientists must prepare separate budgets for each proposal. · Infrastructure for Arctic and Antarctic biology needs improvement. The conduct of molecular research in the polar regions requires specific infrastructure, and there is no high-technology equipment for such work in the Arctic. Development of ice-drilling and clean sampling technolo- gies in the Antarctic will facilitate research in deep ice and subglacial lakes. Recommendation 6-1: To reach the goal of getting excellent science done as efficiently as possible, NSF should remove im- pediments to cross-directorate funding. Because integrated polar science often requires interagency cooperation, NSF should lead by example and form partnerships with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and others as relevant. Memoranda of understanding among directorates within NSF and among fund- ing agencies are one mechanism to facilitate transfer of informa- tion and coordination of research.
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32 FRONTIERS IN POLAR BIOLOGY IN THE GENOMIC ERA Recommendation 6-2: Establishment of international research partnerships or memoranda of understanding will facilitate and enhance these collaborative efforts. Issues such as stipends, travel, visas, education, ship time, aircraft use and other logistical issues should be addressed in these memoranda to ensure suc- cessful operation of international collaborative polar research. Recommendation 6-3: More information is needed to develop solutions to problems related to conducting bipolar research. NSF should conduct a brief survey of researchers and research groups who would potentially work in both poles to identify impedi- ments and then take steps to address them. Recommendation 6-4: To facilitate integrated, multidisciplinary biological research at both poles, NSF will have to improve bio- logical laboratories and research vessels, and develop ice-drilling resources in the polar regions. Opportunities to allow year-round access to, and operation of, field sites should be pursued.
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