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Phillip A. Sharp Opens 2014 AAAS Annual Meeting With Call for Innovation

CHICAGO—Scientific discovery won't be enough to solve the challenges of the 21st century, Nobel-prize winning molecular biologist Phillip Sharp said at the start of the 2014 AAAS Annual Meeting.

There is an "underappreciated need" for translating these discoveries into useful and valuable products and making these products widely accessible, the AAAS president said at a breakfast for international reporters. "We need to move what we do in the discovery and invention process into society."

Sharp said that investments at the interface of life science, physical science and engineering may have the biggest impact on innovation and entrepreneurship. To support these investments, scientists should "continue to talk about the link between research and innovation, and economic and global need," he noted.

Government investment in basic research is "absolutely essential" to this process, Sharp said in response to questions from journalists. He said the recent stagnation in federal science funding in the U.S. may slow the country's ability to grapple with challenges from climate change to health care over the next decade.

Sharp is an Institute Professor at the Koch Institute of Integrative Cancer Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His 1993 Nobel-winning work found that genes can be composed of several separate segments within DNA. His lab now focuses on the therapeutic potential of RNA interference, small RNA molecules that can switch genes on and off. He has co-founded two companies: Biogen (now Biogen Idec) and Alnylam Pharmaceuticals.

Sharp will discuss scientific innovation and entrepreneurship at MIT and other research institutions in his presidential address to open the 2014 meeting tonight. The free public lecture includes remarks by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and conference co-chairs Eric Isaacs, director of Argonne National Laboratory, Morton Schapiro, president of Northwestern University, and Robert J. Zimmer, president of the University of Chicago. The meeting is expected to draw 8500 attendees from nearly 60 countries.