I watched a short video clip from BBC that caught my attention. Biotechnicians had successfully inserted a silk-producing gene from a golden orb weaver spider into a herd of goats. The point was for the goats to produce milk that contained the protein responsible for the production of spider web, a material with amazing strength. The researchers, in turn, could use the milk to produce threads with silk-like qualities, Amazing, but true. Nexia, a company behind this innovation has completed the largest Initial Public Offering in Canada and it is already stepping up production.
This story reminded me the story of dolly the sheep and microrobots in treatment of cancer because both of them are indicators of what is happening with the sciences. The nature of scientific discovery in the 21st century is changing. The science disciplines that were once so distinct are coming together again. I believe the collaboration of disciplines is the only key we have in solving our current problems.
From field to fields, scientists have been trying to explain the origin of the universe using very many different theories while the real problem is the same. Consider chemistry for example, the number of chemical variations may be impossibly large, but the principles that govern such variations are clearly limited. In biology virtually every discovery, including the double helix, has reinforced and refined Darwin’s theory of evolution, not question it. We have spent a lot of time segmenting the world, trying to understand its individual components, and we have done a great job at it. Science works and it works well. However, just as there is limited number of times that we can discover our existence or the DNA, we can discover the law of evolution, or dark energy, or thermodynamics, only once.
This, however, does not mean that science has played out its role. On the contrary, science is becoming increasingly critical to all of our lives. There are more questions to explore now than ever before, from the special relativity to existence of multi dimensions and the infinite number of parallel universes but a great number of the discoveries being made now and in future will be of a different nature than in the past. Instead of helping us understand the individual pieces of the world, science will help us understand how those pieces interact. For instance, you will find engineers collaborating with biologists to understand the toughness of spider silk and applying it in the making of synthetic kevla for bullet proof vests and to automobile bodies. Or you will see geologists, physicists, chemists and biologists collaborating to understand the effects of global warming. New discoveries, world-changing innovations, will come from intersections of disciplines not from within them.
This shift to interdisciplinary science can be seen in colleges, where students have many more hyphens in their majors than in the past. For instance, we now have college graduates in bio-chemistry, physics-mathematics and biology-psychology. In addition, different departments are coming together to explore specific issues relating to environment, bioengineering, sustainable development and neuroscience, among many others. This does not only apply to science but also translates into our daily survival because we live in a world of very hard problems. Many of the most important challenges exceed the capabilities of the individual imagination. As a result I believe we can only find solutions by working with other people of different disciplines.