Biological sciences
How can research in the biological sciences help to solve global problems?

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How can biological science research help to solve the world’s most pressing problems?


Biological research aims to understand the mechanisms that govern life, from how cells function and how organisms develop and adapt, to how populations of organisms interact. The field encompasses a wide array of subfields and involves using a variety of techniques and tools, including microscopes, DNA sequencing, and mathematical modelling, to study living systems at all levels of organisation, from individual molecules to ecosystems.

The research of biologists is vital for many endeavours to improve the lives of human and non-human animals. Research in the biological sciences has already helped improve the world through the development of life saving discoveries such as the identification of microorganisms that cause infectious diseases, the development of CRISPR to study and treat genetic diseases and the development of the COVID vaccine. Plant biologists have also improved human health by making crops more resistant to pests, more nutritious and better able to tolerate environmental stresses.

It’s not difficult to find unsolved research questions within biology which could contribute to improving a huge number of lives. However, you could aim to do more good with your research career in biology by searching specifically for a research area that seems comparatively neglected – in other words, one that seems under-explored by other researchers given its potential to improve lives.

Working on a neglected research area could involve developing resilient foods to make humanity less likely to face starvation in the event of extreme weather events or infrastructure collapse; working to understand and improve the lives of wild animals (a category of beings whose wellbeing has until recently been almost entirely overlooked); working on preventing or preparing humanity for the next pandemic; or perhaps even treating ageing as a way of tackling the underlying cause of most human disease and frailty. Choosing what to work on carefully is also important because there are also ways research within biology can have a negative impact; for example, some research on infectious diseases can produce results that could contribute to deliberate or accidental harm.

The profiles at the end of this introduction are deeper dives into some research directions that could be particularly valuable to explore.




Research agendas and potential sources for research questions

Here are sources from the Effective Altruism community and related organisations that feature questions you could take inspiration from:


Additional resources



This profile was last updated 15/02/2023. Thanks to Hana McMahon Cole for creating this introduction and Sophie Bergmann for feedback. All errors remain our own.

Explore our recommended research directions relating to biological sciences