UW Scientist Contributes to List of Critical Tools Needed for Biological Research

December 13, 2010
Man working with mass spectrometer
University of Wyoming Professor Carlos Martinez del Rio conducts mass spectrometer work in UW's Stable Isotope facility. (UW Photo)

A team of scientists including University of Wyoming Professor Carlos Martinez Del Rio has developed a list of tools that are critically needed for biologists to answer fundamental questions about how life evolves.

Their list of tools is published in the December issue of Bioscience, the journal of the American Institute of Biological Sciences.

"We have tried to highlight possibilities for tools that integrate and affect disciplines and those that allow scientists to work across levels of biological organization," writes Martinez del Rio, a UW Department of Zoology and Physiology professor. "These will likely have the strongest influence on 21st century biology."

The article, "Empowering 21st Century Biology," says, "Discovering and developing necessary tools requires new technologies, applications of existing technologies, software, model organisms, and social structures that will promote tool building, tool sharing, research collaboration and interdisciplinary training."

Martinez del Rio contributed to the importance of using stable isotopes to answer critical questions in biology and make important advances in the near future. He says the UW Stable Isotope Facility is one of the nation's top facilities to accomplish quality isotopic analyses.

"Isotopes record and trace fundamental ecological processes," Martinez del Rio says. "Rapid technological advances over the past decade have greatly stimulated the use of isotope analyses by ecologists."

He notes that isotopes integrate ecological processes in space and time, indicate the presence and magnitude of key ecological processes, and trace the origin and movement of key elements and substances.

"Scientists require more than new technologies, devices, and software; they also need to create and support a culture of science and education that stimulates and nurtures creativity, supports potential toolmakers, and trains the next generation of engineers," the article concludes. "Many tools not yet imagined might make possible the next revolutionary biological discoveries; they might enable scientists to study remote areas of the world or reach and integrate underserved and underrepresented groups in science, thus encouraging progress toward common societal values for human health and the natural environment."

The full article is posted on the Bioscience Web site: http://caliber.ucpress.net/doi/full/10.1525/bio.2010.60.11.8

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