Is Basic Science Essential for Significant and Fundamental Discoveries?

Dr. Michael Levitt, Plenary Speaker

After describing the revolution in biology that took place in Cambridge in the 1950s, he considered the role of computers in structural biology, describing the work that won him the Nobel Prize. He also considers some of his current work  showing how important computers will be in future of biomedical science.  He then goes on to show how computational structural biology can be applied to pressing medical problems, using his work on antibody modeling to illustrate how simple ideas can have medical and commercial significance.  Having enjoyed a long, productive and happy career in basic science, Levitt investigates the support given to young basic scientists working in US biomedical science.  He explains that innovative fundamental basic science research is traditionally done by young people, which makes the steady fall in the number of younger US basic scientists a serious concern.  His analysis suggests that this happen mainly due to a bias against younger applicants with more money going to older PIs. This leads him to question whether basic science is still important and needed.

Perhaps we should focus on applying the knowledge we already have to pressing current problems? Finally he considers why certain research institutions are particular able to win Nobel Prizes in biomedical science? Relying on his own experiences, he identifies some general characteristics that explain long term success.