Director’s Letter – June 2019

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Join the Team

Biologists are learning that to understand life, we need to understand teams. Your body is composed of a series of teams. Only half the cells in your body are human. The other half are bacterial, viral, and fungal. We used to think that these non-human cells were invaders. It turns out they are just part of the team. Knocking them out (be careful with those antibiotics!) can make you sick or affect your ability to think clearly.

Even if we just look at human cells, we see a team! Our bodies are composed of millions of cells, each performing a specialized task that in aggregate allow us to move through the world in powerful ways. By having cells that specialize in perceiving light, supporting thinking, or processing food, our bodies have the capacity to do amazing things. The history of animals and plants, from dogs and cats to wildflowers, is fundamentally the story of how individual cells learned to cooperate and form a team.

A close look at a single cell reveals yet another team. Our cells are powered by mitochondria. Mitochondria are small compartments in our cells that break down nutrients and create the energy rich molecules that power our bodies. These mitochondria were originally free-living bacteria. Like a long-standing guest (freeloader??) that eventually gets assigned house chores, they developed their own role in the cell and are now indispensable!

Revealing the rules of life on a very deep level means understanding the formation of different levels of organization, from cells, to bodies, to human societies.

RMBL is no different. How do we foster a fundamentally different type of science out of the work done by individual scientists? One scientist may be great at sequencing genes and reading the code of life, while another may have the patience to carefully watch the world for 50 years (see the article by David Inouye). Individually, scientists are doing fascinating and ground-breaking work! Together, they can do something entirely novel.

The great science that emerges from teams of scientists lies at the heart of our vision to transform how field science is done. We have a big toolbox, including logistical support and management of research projects, to formal scientific seminars, to architectural design that encourages informal conversations over coffee, to sophisticated data management tools. Our goal is to use this toolbox to leverage the substantial resources invested in individual scientists to foster collaborative teams that will accelerate scientific discovery.

Can there be any greater challenge than understanding a rapidly changing world that provides us the food we eat, the water we drink, and the air we breathe?

You can be a part of this team! Transforming field science will not only involve scientists. It will take specialists in informatics, institutional growth, leadership, non-profits, philanthropy, communications, and the law (to name just a few of the specialties we need to harness).

Your financial support fills in critical gaps. There is federal and university support for short-term projects. The typical funding cycle is only 3 years and 10 years of funding is considered exceptionally long. But many important insights only emerge after decades of observation. There are important scientific results that only emerge from knitting together individual projects. Funding agencies are starting to support this, but they are not doing enough to do justice to the richness and complexity of the world.

Whether your support is time, moral, or financial, be a part of our team! Join us in finding new ways to see the world and creating a better tomorrow.

Ian Billick - Director RMBL

Ian Billick | PhD
Executive Director, RMBL