The Human Genome Project (yes, you have to pronounce those capitals) cost about $3 billion. If $3 billion were yours to spend on scientific research, how would you spend the money?
by polling the house:
For the sake of variety, let's restrict it to your own particular subfield, so, for example, how would I spend three billion dollars on physics?
Once we get past physicists' notorious tendency to settle for order-of-magnitude accuracy
How much did the Human Genome Project cost U.S. taxpayers?
In 1990, Congress established funding for the Human Genome Project and set a target completion date of 2005. Although estimates suggested that the project would cost a total of $3 billion over this period, the project ended up costing less than expected, about $2.7 billion in FY 1991 dollars. Additionally, the project is being completed more than two years ahead of schedule.
we can discuss how we might have preferred to spend $2.7 billion of the US taxpayers' money.
First, sensitive to this comment at Highly Allocthonous, we had better specify that we're talking about a US billion (a thousand million) rather than a British billion (a million million).
Next, let us translate this number into our unit of measure around here, the NIH R01 Research Project Grant. The NIH Office of Extramural Research site has this spreadsheet of award data showing that in Fiscal Year 2007 there were 27,850 new R01s awarded for a cost of $10,045,800,665 which I make out to be about $360,711 per R01 per year. To give a perhaps more intuitive way to look at a "typical" R01, we might use the modular grant cap of $250,000 in direct costs, apply a fairly typical 54% overhead rate to arrive at $385,000 per year. Since we're talking pie-in-the sky, let's go with this number. Also, the maximum funding duration for any competing proposal is 5 years so this brings us to a total project cost of $1,925,000. Remember that now.
Getting back to our treasure box of $2,700,000,000 we can translate this into 1,403 five-year R01 level projects. Just for grins, let's go back to the OER data and see how many new research grants (not just R01s) are funded by selected IC's each year. In FY 2007 NCI (1,395 new research awards) and NIAID (1,123) were the big dogs with NHLBI (896), NIGMS (730), NINDS (702), NIMH (683) and NIDDK (678) snapping at their heels. So adding 1,403 new grants to a particular subfield would appear to be a very significant contribution.
So where would YHN put the projects? Well, it may surprise you but my first choice would be...
Alzheimer's Disease. You can find the stats about the scope of the public health problem, current and looming, by google but for me it boils down to two seat-of-the-pants. First, as a non-expert who is not really in the field, it looks solvable. We have seen a lot of progress into the mechanisms by which the Alzheimer's definitive pathology is established and multiple highly-promising avenues of attack on the pathogenesis. Not to mention a range of highly creative therapeutic approaches including gene therapy and stem cells that are in their infancy and stand to advance treatment of a host of brain pathologies. Second, and perhaps most important, I think people find the loss of self that attends later stage AD to be one of the more frightening age-related conditions. Pain? Cancer? Heart attack? We can face those with a stiff upper lip. Losing some of the essential brain properties that make us who we really are? Anathema. Can you imagine what a glorious triumph it would be to actually cure one of the most familiar, seemingly inevitable and frightening neurodegenerative disorders?
How about you DearReader? Where would you spend $2.7 billion on science?
Update: The rockheads weigh in at Green Gabbro.