Monday, April 1, 2013

Total synthesis funding declared top national priority

WASHINGTON -- Among recent changes to the federal budget was a joint announcement by the White House and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) that along with postmodernist literature critique and intermediate basketweaving, natural product total synthesis has been declared a "top funding priority" for the nation.

The news of the funding priority shift Monday morning came as welcome news to thousands of synthetic chemists in academia, who had worried in recent years that federal belt-tightening might divert funds away from their activities.

Although the funding measures have been laid out in detail in a 6000-page document readily accessible on the CBO website, several government officials gave public statements early on Monday to clarify the scope and magnitude of the announcement.

From the White House's press room, President Barack Obama spoke to reporters. "I consider this my most important contribution to the nation's interest so far," he said, stepping away from his prepared script and wiping a hint of a tear from his eye as he addressed the cameras earnestly. "For too long, our federal government has prioritized translational and applied research. And while contributions to medicine and energy are somewhat important, or something, I guess, we've too long neglected the biggest questions in science that will keep our country great. For example, there are so many alkaloid and polyketides that have been isolated from sea sponges that we just don't know the absolute stereochemical configuration of. And a few of these have some sort of cytotoxic activity or something at millimolar concentrations," the President added.

Cries of "USA! USA!" could be heard from several reporters in the audience who were briefly overtaken with emotion.

NIH director Francis S. Collins issued a statement later in the day on behalf of the National Institute of Health. "We are allied with the President on this strategic historic decision," the report reads. "While some might object to the fact that the NIH has completely defunded cancer research, antibiotic research, and genetics projects, we caution the public that the money invested in total synthesis will reap much richer rewards for the scientific community and the public. For instance, one of the total syntheses might contribute a valuable synthetic method that can be used in a different total synthesis from the same lab group."

The NSF did not issue a statement but a source within the organization pointed out that all NSF predoctoral fellowships this year were awarded to students studying total synthesis.

Despite the billions of dollars of refocused funding, not everyone is happy with the move. The American Physics Society issued a formal letter of protest against the measures, which are estimated to result in the closure of 99.5% of physics labs across the country. Said the report: "What's a carbon?"

Surprising to many was an announcement by the Pentagon that drastic military funding cuts would be made to support the total synthesis effort. US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel addressed troops worldwide via a televised message. "Um, yeah, so, guys, we appreciate your hard work and whatnot, but you can all go home. We're cancelling all this 'war' business, honestly. It's a money sink." In one video of an Army base in Afghanistan, soldiers were seen reacting to the news with elation. Hagel continued: "And let's be honest. Enlarging the postdoc pool is the true route to national security."

In other news, job prospects for chemists look to be increasingly encouraging. In 2013 alone, twelve of the fifteen largest pharmaceutical companies have launched massive hiring campaigns, resulting in nearly complete employment among recent PhD graduates.


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