HHMI's experiment in changing scientific culture

Today's academic and industrial research models have become far too conservative, according to Gerald M. Rubin, director of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Janelia Farm Research Campus.

Rubin presents his provocative viewpoints on the state on biomedical research in a Leading Edge commentary article published in the April 21, 2006, issue of the journal Cell. Leading Edge is a new section of Cell that highlights the social, political, economic, and ethical concerns surrounding biomedical research worldwide.

An internationally recognized geneticist, Rubin led the publicly funded effort to sequence the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster genome. In 2003, Rubin was selected to become the first director of the Janelia Farm Research Campus (JFRC), where he directs scientific programs designed to speed the development and application of new tools for transforming the study of biology and medicine.

With the opening of Janelia Farm in October 2006, Rubin will head HHMI's efforts to begin shifting the conservative balance prevalent in today's academic research centers by providing an environment where leading scientists can pursue long-term, creative, high-risk research.

Traditional academic environments are suitable for a large proportion of research projects, but Rubin believes they can be too restrictive, stifling the kinds of creative, long-term projects that can lead to true breakthroughs. This is true, in part, he said, because the reliance on external funding sources forces scientists to define their research programs in advance when they apply for grants. By setting the course of the research plan up front, scientists are restricted in their ability to pursue questions and opportunities that arise during their studies. "The bulk of the scientific community is limited to projects that can be funded by peer-review committees, which tend to be very conservative," Rubin said. "These grants have to be re

Contact: Jennifer Michalowski
Howard Hughes Medical Institute

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