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Traditionally, high school and university curricula neatly fragment science into physics and chemistry, geology and biology. But that's not the way that the natural world works. In recognition of this disconnect, the National Science Foundation's "Biocomplexity in the Environment" program is funding explorations of the links that connect the living and nonliving components of the planet.
Research sites involved in the effort span the globe, from coral reefs to estuaries. from urban/rural boundaries to deep sea thermal vent communities. The projects differ in scale, too, from sequencing genes to evaluating atmospheric aerosols. "The program started two years ago as a logical outgrowth of programs funding biology that were highly reductionist. Comments from reviewers suggested that a clear holistic approach to understanding interactions in the environment would be timely," says Rita Colwell, NSF director.
Many of the funded investigations mix experimental research and data analysis. "Biocomplexity encompasses biodiversity, endangered species, conservation biology, as well as quantitative approaches to modeling and analysis. It promotes greater linkage between molecular biology and systems analysis. The field brings together all aspects of knowledge …