National Science Foundation - FY 2002 Testimony

The American Society for Microbiology (ASM), the largest single life science organization in the world, comprised of more than 42,000 members, appreciates the opportunity to provide written testimony on the Fiscal Year (FY) 2002 budget for the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The ASM represents scientists who work in academic, industrial, medical and governmental institutions worldwide. Microbiologists are involved in research to improve human health and the environment. The ASM's mission is to enhance the science of microbiology, to gain a better understanding of basic life processes, and to promote the application of this knowledge for improved health, and for economic and environmental well being.

The following testimony will outline the ASM's funding recommendations for NSF research and development programs for FY 2002.

The ASM, as a member of the Coalition for National Science Funding (CNSF), endorses the recommendation to provide no less than $5.1 billion, a 15% increase, for the NSF in FY 2002. This would raise the NSF budget by $765 million from its current $4.4 billion level of funding for FY 2001. The ASM strongly supports Congress's bipartisan commitment of last year to strengthen science and long-term investments in basic research by significantly increasing the National Science Foundation's budget. It is critical to sustain this strong federal investment in FY 2002 and beyond in order to maintain U.S. competitiveness and leadership in science and technology, which depends on adequate funding for basic research.

The NSF is the primary source of nonmedical basic research support in the nation's colleges and universities. NSF is the only federal agency whose mission consists of comprehensive support for the sciences and engineering and is thus a major source of funds for training of our nation's intellectual capital. It is a key agency for supporting research that uses genomic information in new and creative ways. Other NSF initiatives will result in increased understanding of environmental and human microbial interactions, which have particular relevance to global environmental change as well as infectious diseases and represent a new frontier in scientific research.

NSF's mission to promote and advance research and education in the United States is accomplished by funding the highest quality academic research and education programs. A 15 percent increase would enable NSF to support additional excellent research projects in pursuit of important discoveries and innovations. Enhanced support for the NSF's efforts to improve education will help expand our nation's intellectual capital. Strong links between research and education are essential to a healthy research enterprise, an educated public, and a well trained future workforce.

Continued research concerned with the impact of microorganisms on the well being of humans, animals, plants, and the environment is critical. The ASM supports NSF's increased focus on microbial biology and the diversity of microorganisms, an initiative under the auspices of the NSF's Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO). Studies on the unknown microbial biomass provide opportunities to discover new knowledge about microbial life forms and their potential application in industry, medicine and agriculture. In addition, microbiological research continues to provide the foundation for advances in biotechnology. These advances are based on understanding the molecular basis of microbial physiology and the biology, genetics, and molecular biology of viruses, yeast and bacteria and the vectors derived from them.

Biocomplexity

ASM urges support for NSF's bold initiative to better understand the complexity of interactions between organisms and their environment so that human impact and trends in our global environment can be better understood and properly managed. Advances in the underlying disciplines from molecular biology, ecology and the geosciences to mathematics and the computational sciences have now made it feasible to begin to understand more complex interactions. Microorganisms are key components of the soil, water, plant, and animal environments and therefore are dominant factors in understanding these interactions. Furthermore, only a small percentage of the microbial species on earth are known, leaving their functional role unknown. These unknown organisms are the largest untapped source of biodiversity and a potential source of new pharmaceuticals, enzymes, biocontrol agents, and tools for nanotechnologies.

Genomic Research and Informatics

The tremendous advances in DNA sequencing technology have now provided the full genetic code for many organisms, and will include the sequences of probably 60 microbes by the end of 2001. This information is revolutionizing our ability to understand the common features of life as well as the differences among organisms. However, to capitalize on the sequence information research efforts on functional genomics and informatics needs to be enhanced. The function of most of the genes now discovered from sequencing are unknown. Functional genomics research provides the opportunity to understand the role of these genes. Informatics provides the common computer based information about these genes and the software tools to mine these data. As a new field in science, there is a great shortage of people with appropriate training in informatics. ASM recommends that programs in functional genomics and informatics be enhanced to meet this major national need.

The ASM requests that Congress give high priority to increasing the NSF's funding by at least 15 percent for FY 2002. Most of today's scientific achievements leading to the development of biotechnology, antifreeze proteins, improved crops and plant-based products, new antibiotics and pharmaceuticals and DNA fingerprinting have their roots in basic research supported by the NSF. The many future public health and environmental challenges the United States will face can only be overcome through the potential of basic research to generate crucial new scientific knowledge and advancements that lead to new technologies for the future.

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