In 2001, plant biologist Kenneth Piller left a research position with agricultural biotech company Monsanto to follow his wife to Charlotte, North Carolina. There, he took a job teaching plant biology as an adjunct professor at the University of North Carolina. Down the hall from Piller's office was immunologist Kenneth Bost, who was trying to produce a viral protein in wheat to use as a vaccine. Piller recognized in Bost's project a way to get back into research, and Bost saw in Piller’s expertise a way to fill in the gaps in his own knowledge. "I knew I didn’t have the expertise to move forward," Bost says. The pair soon realized they were onto something big: In 2005, Bost and Piller founded a biotechnology research company calledSoyMeds focused on developing soy-based vaccines and other therapies. If they succeed, medicines may one day be delivered via a swig of soy milk.
While not new, cross-disciplinary collaborations—wherein scientists from different disciplines work together on a common problem—are increasing in frequency, says National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Strategic Coordination Director Elizabeth Wilder. And science policymakers, she adds, are touting their abilities to solve big problems in society. But while such partnerships can offer scientists rewarding opportunities or access to nontraditional funding streams, there are also risks and pitfalls for young scientists to be aware of.