Science Education Fuels Innovation

04/24/2013 05:47 pm ET | Updated Jun 24, 2013
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April 25th is DNA Day. I know, you probably had no idea.

If you are like a lot of Americans, you don't give much thought to DNA or genetic science in general. You should.

We are in an incredible era of possibility where the technology used in genetic research has advanced a millionfold in six years. Since the start of the Human Genome Project in 1993 we've seen the price of sequencing a human genome drop from $3 billion to less than $3,000. Even the computer and Internet revolution didn't see such rapid technological advances. Unlike those important moments in our history this genetic revolution offers potential to heal, to discover and to understand ourselves in ways we have never seen before.

But to fully benefit from that revolution we need to understand it and support it. Americans grasp of science is actually no worse than many other developed countries, but it's not better either, according to the most recent report on the subject by the National Science Foundation. But for many of us who believe in America's exceptionalism, it is humbling to see see how much needs to be done to improve even the most basic grasp of science. My company, 23andMe, Inc., recently sponsored a survey to gauge Americans understanding of genetics.

The results, which we'll be releasing this week, tell us a lot about what Americans know, and don't know about genetics. But they also reinforce something I already know -- people have a great reservoir of curiosity about science and the promise of genetics. Among our own customers we've seen individuals with very little formal science training, master its basics in their own quest to learn about themselves. For me personally, this is profoundly encouraging.

To benefit from this genetic revolution we should tap into people's innate curiosity about themselves and invest more in science education and research.

Putting more money into science education will help spark innovation, open new vistas of knowledge and fuel economic growth. But we have been shortsighted in how we invest our resources. Last year the National Science Foundation released a report that showed the United States investment in science education and research were flat or dropping, while in China and elsewhere in Asia spending in those areas grows. If we want to compete in this new economy we have to prepare ourselves and future generations with the skills they will need to succeed.

Fifty years ago, President John F. Kennedy pushed for more science education and challenged the nation to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. We met that challenge. We should take this day to challenge ourselves again and push for more support of science research and education to fuel the hope, insight and the promise of medical breakthroughs offered by this genetic revolution.