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BIO2010: Transforming Undergraduate Education for Future Research Biologists

Abstract

The interplay of the recombinant DNA, instrumentation, and digital revolutions has profoundly transformed biological research. The confluence of these three innovations has led to important discoveries, such as the mapping of the human genome. How biologists design, perform, and analyze experiments is changing swiftly. Biological concepts and models are becoming more quantitative, and biological research has become critically dependent on concepts and methods drawn from other scientific disciplines. The connections between the biological sciences and the physical sciences, mathematics, and computer science are rapidly becoming deeper and more extensive. The ways that scientists communicate, interact, and collaborate are undergoing equally rapid and dramatic transformations, which are driven by the accessibility of vast computing power and facile information exchange over the Internet.

In contrast to biological research, undergraduate biology education has changed relatively little during the past two decades. The ways in which most future research biologists are educated are geared to the biology of the past, rather than to the biology of the present or future. Like research in the life sciences, undergraduate education must be transformed to prepare students effectively for the biology that lies ahead. Life sciences majors must acquire a much stronger foundation in the physical sciences (chemistry and physics) and mathematics than they now get. Connections between biology and the other scientific disciplines need to be developed and reinforced so that interdisciplinary thinking and work become second nature.

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