National Science Foundation - FY 2005 Testimony

The American Society for Microbiology (ASM) appreciates the opportunity to submit testimony on the Fiscal Year (FY) 2005 appropriation for the National Science Foundation (NSF). The ASM is the largest single life science membership organization in the world, comprised of more than 43,000 members. The ASM’s mission is to enhance the science of microbiology, to gain a better understanding of life processes, and to promote the application of this knowledge for improved health, and for economic and environmental well-being.

The NSF is the premier source of federal support for mathematic, scientific, and engineering research and education across many disciplines. NSF support plays a critical role in the health of the nation’s academic system, which is the source of new ideas and human resources in science. Although NSF represents less than four percent of the total federal funding for research and development (R&D), it accounts for approximately 13 percent of all federal support for basic research and 40 percent of non-life-science basic research at U.S. academic institutions. NSF’s broad support for basic research, particularly at U.S. academic institutions, provides not only a key source of funds for discovery in many fields, but also unique stewardship in developing the next generation of scientists and engineers. NSF is also the principal federal agency charged with promoting science and engineering education at all levels and in all settings, from pre-kindergarten through career development. This helps ensure that the United States has world-class scientists, mathematicians and engineers, and well-prepared citizens.

ASM appreciates the support that both the Congress and the Administration have demonstrated for the National Science Foundation through the enactment of the NSF Authorization Act of 2002 (Public Law 107-368). P.L. 107-368 authorizes a five-year period of 15% annual budget increases for the NSF. We encourage Congress to act upon their commitment and increase funding for NSF by 15%, or $837 million, for FY 2005, raising the NSF budget to $6.4 billion. Increasing NSF’s budget by 15% will allow for additional investments in grants, fellowships, and in cross-cutting research priorities like Biocomplexity in the Environment, and Nanoscale Science and Engineering. This recommendation is consistent with that of the Coalition for National Science Funding.

Research Grant Funding

Fundamental research in the biosciences has laid the foundation for exploring the human genome and now offers new possibilities for understanding the living world from molecules to organisms to ecosystems, providing new discoveries applicable to health, environment, agriculture, and energy. The FY 2005 budget request for NSF is $5.57 billion, a 3% or $167 million increase over FY 2004. This current level of funding will provide for a 2.2% increase in the average size of awards to $142,000 per year for an average duration of 3 years, assuming there will be a decrease in the number of awards from FY 2004. For core research areas of the biological sciences, it will increase the average size of awards to $190,750 (median award size $140,250) per year for 3 years from $181,670 (median award size $138,070) per year in FY 2004. However, the number of research grants will drop by 2.5%, and the funding rate will drop by 1% to 19%.

Improving productivity of researchers requires increasing the average award size. ASM applauds efforts to increase the average award size, but is disappointed with the decrease in the number of research grants that will be funded. Increasing NSF’s budget by 15% would allow NSF to increase the size of the awards and increase the number of grants awarded.

The biological sciences program provides support for research to advance understanding of the underlying principles and mechanisms governing life. Research ranges from the study of the structure and dynamics of biological molecules, such as proteins and nucleic acids, through cells, organs and organisms, to studies of populations and ecosystems. It encompasses processes that are internal to the organism as well as those that are external, and includes temporal frameworks ranging from measurements in real time through individual life spans, to the full scope of evolutionary time.

Biocomplexity in the Environment

As the world faces significant scientific and societal challenges, including the prospect of rapid environmental and climatic changes, biological threats, and the complicated question of long-term environmental security, the NSF has developed an interdisciplinary program called Biocomplexity in the Environment (BE). BE is designed to give NSF the capability to respond to the demand for new approaches to investigating the interactions of all living things at all levels – from their molecular structures to genes to organisms to ecosystems to urban centers – and the environment. Fundamental study of complex environmental systems is a key element of local, national, and global security and critical to the development of new scientific and technological capabilities.

Microorganisms are key components of soils and aquatic environments, and play profoundly important roles in the distribution and activity of plants and animals. Understanding the distribution and activities of microorganisms is essential for addressing numerous environmental challenges. However, only a small percentage of Earth's microbial species are known, which leaves large gaps in our ability to predict the directions of environmental change.

Two priority areas within BE are relevant to the enhanced fundamental understanding of microorganisms important to nature and to human health. These priority areas are:

Microbial Genome Sequencing is an interagency effort with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) which uses high throughput sequencing of microorganisms of fundamental biological interest, agriculture, forestry, food and water quality, or value in understanding potential agents of bioterrorism. Genome sequence information will provide the basis for understanding the physiology, pathology, and ecology of these organisms. This knowledge can be applied to detection of organisms and to understanding microbial adaptation to extreme environments, which could lead to the economic uses of microorganisms. Emphasis will also be placed on sequencing of microbes and their association with other organisms, such as plants, animals, and other microbes. 

  • Ecology of Infectious Diseases is an interagency partnership with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for the development of predictive models and discovery of principles for relationships between environmental factors and transmission of infectious agents. Potential benefits include the development of disease transmission models, understanding unintended health effects of environmental change, and improved prediction of disease outbreaks, emergence, and reemergence. Examples of environmental factors include habitat transformation, biological invasion, biodiversity loss, and contamination.

This effort to expand multidisciplinary research will result in more complete understanding of natural processes, of human behaviors and decisions in the natural world, and ways to use new technology effectively to sustain life on earth. The President has requested level funding for BE in FY 2005. Increasing NSF’s budget by 15% would allow NSF to increase its investment in the BE effort.

Nanoscale Science and Engineering


The Nanoscale Science and Engineering effort encompasses the systematic organization, manipulation and control of matter at atomic, molecular, and supramolecular levels. With the capacity to manipulate matter at the nanometer scale (one-billionth of a meter), science, engineering, and technology are realizing revolutionary advances, in areas such as individualized pharmaceuticals, new drug delivery systems, more resilient materials and fabrics, catalysts for industry and computer chips.

NSF has been a pioneer among federal agencies in fostering the development of nanoscale science. ASM supports the President’s request of $305 million in FY 2005, a 20.3% increase over FY 2004, for the Nanoscale Science and Engineering effort. Of this amount, $5.85 million will go the Biological Sciences, a 10.2% increase over FY 2004. A total of $174 million will be used for Fundamental Research and Education, and of this:

  • $24.5 million will be devoted to Biosystems at the Nanoscale, a $3.5 million increase over FY 2004. Biosystems at the Nanoscale support the study of biologically based or inspired systems that exhibit novel properties and potential applications. Potential applications include improved drug delivery, biocompatible nanostructured materials for implantation, exploiting functions of cellular organelles, devices for research in genomics, proteomics and cell biology, and nanoscale sensory systems, such as miniature sensors for early detection of cancer. 
  • $11.5 million for Nanoscale Processes in the Environment to support studies on nanoscale physical and chemical processes related to the trapping and release of nutrients and contaminants in the natural environment. Potential benefits include artificial photosynthesis for clean energy and pollution control, and nanoscale environmental sensors and other instrumentation. 
  • $22.2 million devoted to Multi-scale, Multi-phenomena Theory, Modeling and Simulation at the Nanoscale, to support theory, modeling, large-scale computer simulation and new design tools and infrastructure in order to understand, control, and accelerate development in new nanoscale regimes and systems.

Research at the nanoscale is needed to advance the development of the ultra-small technology that will transform electronics, materials, medicine and many other fields.

National Ecological Observatory Network

The National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) will be a continental scale research instrument consisting of geographically distributed infrastructure, networked via state-of-the-art communications, for integrated studies to obtain a predictive understanding of the nation’s environment. It will transform ecological research by enabling studies on major environmental challenges at regional to continent scales. Scientists and engineers will use NEON to conduct real-time ecological studies spanning all levels of biological organization and temporal and geographical scales.

The President has requested a $12 million increase for NEON over FY 2004 for a total of $16 million in FY 2005. In FY 2004, $4 million was allocated to the Biological Sciences Directorate to develop the NEON Coordinating Consortium (NCC) and Project Office. These units will refine the NEON project, scope , budget, and schedule for research infrastructure. The President has requested level funding for FY 2005 for finalizing the development of the NCC and Project Office, and for funding research on enabling technologies. The remaining $12 million will go to the Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction Account to initiate construction of the first two NEON observatories.

It is estimated that 1,400 field biologists will use NEON annually. A larger number of scientists, students, resource managers, and decision makers will make use of NEON data, both directly and indirectly, through the network capabilities and data distribution and sharing technologies via the network and the internet. Increasing NSF’s budget by 15% would allow NSF to increase its investment in NEON. NEON is a resource that has the potential to transform ecological research.

Conclusion

The NSF plays a key role in support of basic science in the United States and knowledge gained from NSF studies directly benefits industry and contributes to the nation’s economy and international competitive position. The NSF is in a singular position among all the federal research and development agencies to support fundamental research in important areas including, microbiology and molecular biology. ASM urges Congress to protect ongoing and future U.S. scientific and technological advancements by supporting a 15% budget increase in FY 2005 for the NSF. The ASM also believes NSF should continue to emphasize fundamental, investigator initiated research, research training, and science education as its highest priorities.

The ASM appreciates the opportunity to provide written testimony and would be pleased to assist the Subcommittee as it considers its appropriation for NSF for FY 2005.

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