Reflections on Basic Science


After almost 50 years in science, I believe that there is an acceptable, often advantageous chasm between open-ended basic research—free exploration without a practical destination and in which the original ideas may fade into new concepts—and translational research or clinical research. My basic research on crystalline (proteins conferring the optical properties of the eye lens) led me down paths I never would have considered if I were conducting translational research. My investigations ranged from jellyfish to mice and resulted in the gene-sharing concept, which showed that the same protein can have distinct molecular functions depending upon its expression pattern and, conversely, that different proteins can serve similar functional roles. This essay portrays basic science as a creative narrative, comparable to literary and artistic endeavors. Preserving the autonomy of open-ended basic research and recognizing its artistic, narrative qualities will accelerate the development of innovative concepts, create a rich resource of information feeding translational research, and have a positive impact by attracting creative individuals to science.