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Image: Allan Jones and Paul Allen
Paul Allen, at right, looks over a slice of brain tissue with Allan Jones, CEO of the Allen Institute for Brain Science. (Credit: Vulcan)

Seattle billionaire Paul Allen is making a pitch for out-of-the-box bioscience from one of the scientific community’s most respected soapboxes: the editorial section of the journal Science.

In a guest editorial, Allen argues that biological science could blossom as much in the years ahead as computer science did when he and Bill Gates founded Microsoft:

“In 1975, when relatively powerful microprocessors first became available, many young entrepreneurs — including myself — were inspired to create companies, platforms, and programming tools that helped make computing available to everyone. This in turn helped spark the information revolution. Today, thanks to the increasing sophistication, speed, and power of computer modeling and other new tools such as optogenetics and multiple forms of microscopy, we are on the brink of another revolution — this time in bioscience.”

Allen himself is putting hundreds of millions of dollars toward furthering the field, through investments in the Allen Institute for Brain Science, the Allen Institute for Cell Science, the newly announced Frontiers Group and other efforts.

But the revolution is not assured, Allen goes on to say. He calls on his fellow philanthropists, as well as governments, universities and private ventures, to invest much more in “basic, fundamental science and in the intrepid scientists who are willing to pursue out-of-the-box approaches at the very edges of knowledge.”

Allen also puts in a word for collaborative, interdisciplinary research approaches that blend bioscience with math, computer science, medicine and other fields. The Human Genome Project serves to show how such approaches can lead to success, he says.

An editorial in Science urging more support for out-of-the-box research is a bit like coming out strongly in favor of motherhood and apple pie anywhere else. The White House’s cancer moonshot initiative, today’s summit on the Zika virus and a new multidisciplinary effort to map and hack the mosquito genome all suggest that officials and scientists already recognize the need to think out of the box and allocate funding accordingly.

But it could be that Allen’s target audience includes members of Congress, where steady support for science spending isn’t a sure thing. He could be speaking to presidential candidates, some of whom give science short shrift. And he could be speaking to voters, who haven’t heard much about the scientific and technological challenges facing America during the current political season.

Now, if only they were reading Science. …

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