While working at the bench, several thoughts run in my mind. Why am I doing this experiment? How will it add to scientific knowledge? Does my research impact the common man and society? While spending days and nights at the bench, scientists are working towards the development of a healthier and a more prosperous society.
Science and society are inseparable. Scientific innovations and discoveries were and are made to satisfy the curiosity of understanding nature and to solve real life problems. In the past century (history is too vast for me to talk about), we have seen monumental changes in both science and society. Today, science and technology form the very basis of our everyday life. Technological innovations in creating food resources, internet and telecommunication are integral part of our lives that we cannot do without.
Scientific research in biology probably has one of the most widespread effects on human society. The field of medicine and health care are directly affected by the research conducted in the labs, resulting in generation of new medical concepts, diagnostic methods, clinical trials and treatment. With the advances in health sciences, there is an increase in the average human life span and we have been able to eradicate deadly diseases such as small pox and combat diseases like polio.
At RCB, we have a diverse community of researchers, students and scientists. The environment at the institute is highly interactive and multidisciplinary. At our institute, structural biologists and crystallographers focus on a wide range of research fields like understanding the molecular basis of antigen recognition, studying host-microbe interactions and understanding the transcription regulatory mechanisms in bacterial systems. Some of us work in close collaboration with clinicians to address clinical disorders like thrombosis and sickle cell disease. Other labs work on pathogen biology, gut disorders such as Inflammatory Bowel Disorder (IBD) and cancer.
In the past few decades, advancements in scientific research are happening at a phenomenal pace. Huge amounts of scientific data and findings are reported each year and enrich the existing literature in their respective fields. This large volume of scientific data includes both studies in fundamental (basic) science as well as applied science. Fundamental scientific studies showcase new scientific ideas, thoughts and unravel the mysteries of nature around us. Applied science, on the other hand, involves development of newer technology and more sophisticated, accurate problem solving tools and techniques. Importantly, fundamental discoveries and ideas form the basis for the development of problem-solving technologies. For example, the human genome project involved a lot of ‘basic science’ research, involving mapping genes and genomes of many different species. The vast information generated by this project now serves as the basis of identification of many genetic diseases (applied science). Thus, it is essential not to undermine the importance of either school of scientific endeavour and both are essential for the betterment of the society.
It is equally important to implement measures to utilize all this information in a socially responsible manner to build a healthier, happier society. Integrative, interdisciplinary measures need to be adopted to bridge the gap between scientists at the bench and the common people. Social scientists need to work in close association with scientists and the grant funding agencies to promote publicly funded, socially inclined research projects. In countries like ours, a significant number of people are still struggling to get three meals a day and safe water to drink. Health issues affecting a majority of the Indian society like heart disease, lung cancer and congenital defects deserve keen attention. A vigorous teaching programme coupled to research departments is an effective method of attracting young bright people into research. Considering the resources are limited and the costs of lab reagents are ever increasing, the scientific community needs to rethink strategies and cultivate young innovative minds to lead Indian science.