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At ASM, Holdren Touts the Obama Administration's Commitment to Science, Technology


During his January 2009 inaugural address, US President Barack Obama pledged to "restore science to its rightful place." At the American Society for Microbiology's annual meeting, held in New Orleans in May, John Holdren — who directs the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and co-chairs the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology — outlined the ways in which he said Obama is making good on his promise.

Holdren said that the president and his administration have strengthened the nation's recognition of, and commitment to, science. Obama has "used the bully pulpit to an extraordinary degree, highlighting science and technology in speeches. … No president has ever talked as much about science, technology, and innovation, as this president has," he said. Despite recent budgetary setbacks, Obama still aims to double science research budgets within 10 years and intends "to put in place the policies and the budgets that will get us to public and private investment in research and development" to 3 percent of the nation's gross domestic product, Holdren added. The Obama administration has also launched a variety of initiatives to advance science and technology education and investment in the US, he said, including Educate to Innovate — which aims to enhance students' participation and performance in STEM subjects — and the Strategy for American Innovation, which Holdren said highlights Obama's commitment to science and technology as building blocks to sustain economic growth. As such, Holdren "would assert that no president in history has ever launched anything like this array of initiatives to lift our game in science, technology, and innovation," he said.

As he was speaking to an audience of microbiologists, Holdren added that there "are enormous cross--cutting questions" related to microbiological research that could profoundly affect anything from the US economy to the effects of global climate change. "The first one is: Who is there? What are the dimensions of microbial biodiversity in the soils, in fresh water, in sea water, in sediments, in and on plants and animals?" Holden asked. "As you know, the emerging field of metagenomics has led to an enormous expansion in our estimates of how much microbial biodiversity there is by really an enormous factor." Next, he asked, "What are they all doing?" To answer that, Holdren requested that meeting attendees become actively involved in science policy, but also to, "first and foremost, keep doing what you're doing. Do the science; come in on weekends to check your cultures; [and] screen the oceans, the land, the estuaries for novel sequences of microbial DNA, [to] expand our understanding of this still barely scratched, but hugely important, fraction of earthly life."

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