Funding pond scum

Obama’s support for stem cell research is admirable.

For quite some time now, Republicans have griped about âÄúpointlessâÄù research. On the campaign trail, John McCain was fond of joking about a $3 million bear DNA study, wondering if it was a âÄúpaternity issue or criminal.âÄù HeâÄôs also joined those criticizing the $819,000 set aside for catfish research. On the surface, these programs seem wasteful, but those who think so donâÄôt understand the science. No doubt, these same politicians would snort at a funds to study roundworms. After all, what possible use could come of spending money on pond scum? In his 2002 Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Sydney Brenner reflected on the roundworm, saying that âÄúchoosing the right organism for oneâÄôs research is as important as finding the right problems to work on.âÄù Or perhaps they would scoff at the National Science Foundation giving money to research bakerâÄôs yeast. Researcher Leland Hartwell would beg to differ; and so would his 2001 Nobel Prize. Both of these discoveries have been subsequently put to good use; the science of apoptosis and cell cycle regulation are on the front lines of the fight against cancer. Which brings us to another widely-derided science: stem cells. President Obama has declared his intention to fund stem cell research with federal money, reflecting a dedication to science that his critics obviously lack. Stem cell research is the kind of long-term, expensive study that requires the support of people who are willing to explore the unknown, regardless of the profit margins that obsess private companies. Support for this fundamental, basic science is where Nobel Prizes and miracle cures come from, and we should be grateful, not spiteful, that we have an administration that understands that.