Strategic Planning Document -
Environment and Natural Resources

Research Successes

The Eagle Has Landed

In 1963, the total population of American bald eagles had dwindled to an estimated 800 birds in the lower 48 states. Research identified the primary cause as DDT and other forms of organophosphates used in insecticides. Research was begun to understand the ecological needs of this species and to devise a methodology for captive breeding and reintroduction. Today, the population has risen to an estimated 8000 birds, and on June 30, 1994, the American bald eagle was removed from the list of animal species hovering at the brink of extinction.

This delisting represented a pivotal success for the eagle and the 1973 Endangered Species Act. While the recovery of American bald eagle population represents the cumulation of research on one species, the lessons learned from these studies translate into general principles that can now be applied to understanding how to maintain populations of many different species. Research has lead to being able to remove other species from the endangered species list including the pacific grey whale, the peregrine falcon, the grizzly bear, the eastern timber wolf, the whooping crane, the Columbian white-tailed deer, and the cutthroat trout.

Natural Wonder Opens Door to Biotechnology

One of the most significant discoveries of the burgeoning field of biotechnology derives from scientific understanding of a humble, heat-resistant bacterium that occurs naturally in the waters of the hot springs of Yellowstone National Park. Basic biological research, including systematic biology (which describes different organisms and their relationships to one another), led to the identification of the heat- resistant bacterium Thermus aquaticus as a possible source of a heat-resistant enzyme for use in molecular biology research.

The 1993 Nobel Prize for Chemistry honored the conception of the polymerase chain reaction using this heat-resistant enzyme to make it possible to multiply a minute amount of genetic material millions of times within hours. This technique has become fundamental to diagnostic medicine, the human genome project, and forensic medicine. The technique has also contributed to the field of biotechnology, annually generating billions of dollars in economic activity. This is a premier example of the ability to generate wealth from biodiversity at the level of the molecule.