The Board on Life Sciences serves as the National Academies' focal point for a wide range of technical and policy topics in the life sciences, including bioterrorism, genomics, biodiversity conservation, and key topics in basic biomedical research, such as stem cells. The board organizes and oversees studies that provide advice to government and the scientific community on the biological sciences and their impact on society. The board maintains expertise in and understanding of the full spectrum of life science disciplines, from molecular genetics to ecology. This enables it to deal with issues of both basic science (e.g., knowledge gaps, research priorities, needed investments) and the higher level policy concerns that flow from or build on the basic science. The Board also oversees important studies on the improvement of biology education, particularly at the undergraduate level, and the maintenance of a robust life sciences workforce.
Throughout its 25 year history, the Board on Life Sciences has produced numerous reports that have had major impacts on science and policy. In 1988, Mapping and Sequencing the Human Genome was one of two reports that helped tip the scales in favor of proceeding with the effort to sequence the human genome. Also in 1988, the term “biodiversity” entered public usage with publication of the report Biodiversity, which drew attention to biodiversity’s ecological importance and the many threats facing it. In 1996, The Evaluation of Forensic DNA Evidence helped make matching DNA samples from crime scenes and suspects a reliable source of evidence in our justice system. Other high impact reports have included The National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON): Addressing the Nation’s Environmental Challenges (2003); Enhancing the Vitality of the National Institutes of Health: Organizational Change to Meet New Challenges; Bridges to Independence: Fostering the Independence of New Investigators in Biomedical Research (2005); Guidelines for Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research (2005); The New Science of Metagenomics: Revealing the Secrets of Our Microbial Planet (2007); A New Biology for the 21st Century (2009); Toward Precision Medicine: Building a Knowledge Network for Biomedical Research and a New Taxonomy of Disease (2011); Convergence: Facilitating Transdisciplinary Integration of Life Sciences, Physical Sciences, Engineering, and Beyond (2014); Gene Drives on the Horizon: Advancing Science, Navigating Uncertainty, and Aligning Research with Public Values (2016), and Microbiomes of the Built Environment: A Research Agenda for Indoor Microbiology, Human Health, and Buildings (2017).