updated 1/19/2007 4:40:22 PM ET 2007-01-19T21:40:22

Harvard University will spend $50 million to encourage scientific research that crosses traditional department boundaries and focuses on areas such as stem cells and engineering modeled on living organisms.

The Harvard University corporation, the board that governs school, said the money will be used to create new departments, hire faculty, fund research, and pay for new equipment and laboratory space.

"The fact that Harvard, which has probably been more famous than any university for the insularity of its programs, is undertaking this, is a terribly important signal to the entire research community," Robert M. Berdahl, president of the Association of American Universities, told The Boston Globe in a story published Friday.

Provost Steven E. Hyman called the initiative "a down payment on a longer-term investment in science and engineering."

The Harvard corporation expressed general support for a new department focused on stem cell biology. Research would range from basic science to medical applications.

If approved, it would be the first university-wide department, bringing together researchers from the medical school and the faculty of arts and sciences.

Some Harvard scientists said they fear new departments would not maintain the same academic standards as are in place today. Others worry that in seeking to stay on the leading edge, the university will devote too many resources to scientifically fashionable areas.

"Regenerative medicine is a very important arena, but it may not be the most important problem facing us in terms of the huge and potentially dramatic changes in our global climate and environment," Harvard zoologist Farish A. Jenkins Jr. said.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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