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Editors' Letter

Editors' Letter: More than Face Value

In popular discussions of biotechnology, we often hear more about the cost of research than about its value. Granted, this is an expensive industry. But it is also one that improves lives, the environment and the economies of developed and emerging countries alike. For the cover section in this, our sixth annual edition of Scientific American Worldview, we asked experts from around the world to compare the costs of the industry with the value of its outcomes. Their analysis paints a panoramic landscape of these benefits, illustrating not only the direct rewards in the foreground but also some of the more subtle gains on the horizon. In addition, we have collected opinions from leading life science figures on the crucial biotechnology-related issues that bring nations together—problems in desperate need of the solutions science has to offer. And to present a 360-degree view of the worth of innovation, healthcare economists Tomas Philipson and Anupam Jena highlight the value of advances to the innovators themselves. We also travel to South Africa to meet Motlatsi Musi, who grows biotech-based crops to feed his family and community on the site of a former minefield. Think an ear of corn tastes sweet? Read Musi’s poignant story to appreciate just how sweet indeed.

Corn and a range of other biotech-driven harvests crop up in this year’s Scientific American Worldview Scorecard. This year’s list was compiled using powerful new metrics that unveil a number of intriguing trends, both in the country rankings and the industry in general.

In a special section, we cover another global challenge: the ongoing battle against cancer. Louis DeGennaro describes how some voluntary health agencies are taking on a new role in cancer research, while Chad Flaig tells how he and a crew of family and friends used the power of teamwork to combat—and beat—cancer. Also, in a story inspired by a terrible loss, a coalition of top-ranked researchers—Stuart Kauffman, Colin Hill, Leroy Hood and Sui Huang—offers up a “manifesto” for transforming medicine and proposes new ways to achieve better outcomes from research.

Much of this year’s issue underscores the value of teamwork. The boundless opportunities collaboration offers are especially evident in our on-the-ground profile of the biotech industry in Brazil. There, we find experts are taking a creative approach to forging partnerships that benefit all parties, and it appears that their cooperative spirit will mean big things for Brazilian biotech in the future.

As always, our Spotlights give readers a round-the-globe tour of the industry, from Australia to Zimbabwe, and many stops in between. With topics ranging from cutting-edge cosmetics to crop science, these stories demonstrate the multifaceted nature of biotech innovation today.

Wrapping up this year’s Scientific American Worldview, Anita Goel offers her VIEWpoint on nanobiophysics. Goel—a figure emblematic of the multidisplinary ethos at work in the life sciences—describes the enormous healthcare benefits emerging from new applications of this tiny technology.

Our 2014 issue, and the thought-provoking stories that it delivers, would not be possible without the support of our sponsors: Celgene, our Marquee Sponsor; Human Longevity, Inc.; and MYOS Corporation. They enable us to launch and expand the conversations presented in these pages. Likewise, our dedicated Board of Advisers and professional journalists around the world help us investigate the most exciting developments in this field. These stories, however, only complete their voyage when you, our readers, join in the discussion. We thank you for accompanying us on our global journey, and look forward to hearing from you throughout the year.

Yali Friedman is lead editorial consultant and Mike May is editorial director for Scientific American Worldview.

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  • A Guided Tour

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