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Funds Needed

Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology warn that declining investment in scientific research is hindering advances in some 15 fields, Reuters reports. They say low funding is holding back fields ranging from agriculture to Alzheimer's disease and from fusion energy to robotics.

Science funding is at "the lowest it has been since the Second World War as a fraction of the federal budget," MIT's Marc Kastner, one of the report authors, tells Reuters. "This really threatens America's future."

For instance, in its "The Future Postponed" report, the MIT committee says that advances are needed in plant sciences and breeding to meet the challenge of feeding a growing population and preventing crop diseases. It notes that other countries like China have been relying on new techniques to grow papayas that are resistant to ringspot virus as well as wheat plants that are resistant to a common fungus.

The report says that further innovations in the area will be needed to "to increase the efficiency of photosynthesis, improve food nutritional content, or modify plants for biofuel production."

"This will require more basic understanding of plant biology, as well as developing and utilizing new technologies like synthetic chromosomes and advanced genome editing tools that are still in their infancy, and thus will require sustained research," it adds.

However, it notes that US federal investment in plant sciences-related R&D is waning, putting the US at risk of losing its leadership position in the area.

When asked by Reuters how this decline in scientific funding could be reversed, Kastner says, "I wish I knew the answer."