It is the intent of the ERATO program to focus on basic research, and several of the projects were deeply involved in the most fundamental pursuit of knowledge. However, many of the projects performed what we will refer to as "targeted" research, where the focus was on discovering a protein or cellular factor that influenced a certain behavior. In these projects, the techniques employed were standard techniques, common among modern molecular biology laboratories, and a specific target was sought. Where a researcher engaged in more basic research might ask why or how a given technique works, a common question in some ERATO projects is, how can I use an existing technique to identify something I predict should be found there?
It is important to underscore, however, the academic freedom that exists for the project directors and their scientists. This intellectual freedom is at the heart of the ERATO program. It was obvious and very appealing scientifically that the project directors were given full autonomy to choose the questions they wanted to ask and the research directions they wanted to pursue. Such freedom allows scientists to ask very basic and fundamental questions. If the questions actually asked are of a more applied or targeted nature, then the process of implementing ERATO, not the basis for ERATO, might be examined so as to strengthen the fundamental component of the research. For example, since the academic and financial freedom exists for each project director to perform basic research, if basic research is not being performed, an evaluation as to why might be beneficial. Are the proposed research directions given sufficient weight in determining the project directors? Are the scientists added to the group the best, given the research directions? Are there other mechanisms (i.e., international collaborations) that would enhance the basic research?
In summary, the quality of science in the biosciences area was impressive. A question of basic versus applied research had been asked during JTECH's previous visit. Indeed, the composition of projects has moved significantly to the basic side during the past seven years. That this panel found no publications in biotechnology or bioengineering journals suggests the intent of the work was uniformly of a basic nature. Instead, it used the term "targeted" basic research in this report. The quantity of scientific output was not addressed by this study. Some communication with Japanese scientists outside ERATO revealed concern regarding the quantity of science produced during ERATO projects. The data this panel has gathered is presented in Chapter 3. It shows that the average number of pages published per project averaged from 25 to 50.