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The Genomic Revolution
Task Group Reports

Task Group Overview

At the conference, participants were divided into interdisciplinary working groups. The groups spent eight hours over four days exploring diverse challenges at the interface between science, engineering, and medicine.  

The goals of the working groups were to spur new thinking, to have people from different disciplines interact, and to forge new scientific contacts across disciplines.  The working groups were not expected to solve the particular problems posed to the group, but rather to come up with a consensus method of attack and a thoughtful list of what we know and don't know how to do, and what's needed to get there. The composition of the groups were intentionally diverse, to encourage the generation of new approaches by combining a range of different types of contributions.  The groups included researchers from science, engineering, and medicine, as well as representatives from private and public funding agencies, universities, businesses, journals, and the science media.   Researchers represented a wide range of experience -- from postdoc to those well-established in their careers -- from a variety of disciplines that included genetics, microbiology, immunology, bioengineering, electrical engineering, chemistry, ecology, mechanical engineering, philosophy/ethics, law, medicine, epidemiology, and public health.

The conference committee had five objectives for the working groups:

  • To approach the application of genomics to infectious disease from the perspective of problems having potentially revolutionary impact, rather than from the perspective of extensions of existing technology;
  • To allow a group of people with a broad range of backgrounds to pool their insights and creativity to work on a shared interesting problem;   
  • To identify ideas and insights common to a number of working groups, and to identify how advances in genomics and their application might have a very large impact on the treatment and control of infectious disease; 
  • To identify the best (by whatever metrics seem to fit) big problems in the treatment and control of infectious disease to which genomics might be applied, and to identify gaps in knowledge that limit progress in the solution of these problems;
  • To allow individuals to make connections with one another in small working groups.

The groups needed to address the challenge of communicating and working together from a diversity of expertise and perspectives, as they attempted to solve a complicated, interdisciplinary problem in a relatively short time.  Each group decided on its own structure and approach to tackle the problem.   Some groups decided to refine or redefine their problems, based on their experience. 

Each working group included a graduate student in a university science writing program.  Based on the group interaction and the final briefings, the students wrote the following summaries, which were reviewed by the group members.  These summaries describe the problem and outline the approach taken, including what research needs to be done to understand the fundamental science behind the challenge, the proposed plan for engineering the application, the reasoning that went into it and the benefits to society of the problem solution. 

Conference and Task Group Summaries