Biologist Jeff Leips explains model organism research on Capitol Hill in support of federal funding

Federally-funded science researchers have tightened their belts in recent years, as budgets for federal research agencies have decreased in many core areas. Concerned at the prospect of future research funding cuts, particularly for model organism and basic research, the Coalition to Promote Research and Coalition for National Science Funding gathered scientists and representatives of funding agencies to present a Congressional Poster Exhibition and Reception.

Held on April 13, 2016 at the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C., the event gave legislators and their staff a greater understanding of the value of research currently supported by the federal government and the processes for selecting grant recipients. UMBC biological sciences professor Jeff Leips, a federally-funded scientist who uses the fruitfly (Drosophila) to study traits associated with aging, attended the event to discuss the importance of research using this workhorse model organism.

“Much of what we know of biology comes from model organisms,” Leips says. He explains that fruitflies share about 60 percent of their genes with humans, and about 75 percent of disease-causing genes in humans have a parallel gene in flies, so studying the tiny critters is a cost-effective, practical, and ethical way to learn about human disease. Labs that use model organisms also provide ample opportunities to train the next generation of scientists.

Leips spoke with Senate staffers at the meeting who were “very open to listening,” he says. While some of the onus is on politicians to take time to learn the intended purpose of research in context, Leips suggests, scientists and research institutions “could do more.” He recommends organizing similar events on university campuses and inviting local legislators. He also suggests helping scientists become more aware of how scientific language can have different meanings in a lay context, to prepare them for speaking with the media and general audiences.

To learn more about Jeff Leips’ experience at this event, read his post on the Genetic Society of America‘s blog.

Header image: Jeff Leips at the Congressional Poster Exhibition. Photo by Charles Votaw.