National Science Foundation - FY 2007 Testimony

The American Society for Microbiology (ASM) is pleased to submit the following testimony on the Fiscal Year (FY) 2007 appropriation for the National Science Foundation (NSF). The ASM is the largest single life science organization with more than 43,000 members. The ASM 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 plays a critical role in ensuring the health of the nation’s research and education system, the principal source of new ideas and human resources in science and engineering. The NSF is the funding source for approximately 20 percent of all federally supported basic research conducted by U.S. colleges and universities. The NSF’s broad support to US academic institutions provides not only a key source of funds for basic discoveries across disciplinary fields, but also prepares students for the science and engineering workforce. The NSF is the primary federal agency charged with promoting science and engineering education at all levels and in all settings, from pre-kindergarten through career development. This educational effort helps to ensure that the United States has world-class scientists, mathematicians, and engineers.

The ASM strongly supports the Administration’s request of $6.02 billion in FY 2007 for the NSF, an increase of 7.9 percent over FY 2006. The NSF is one of the three key agencies in the President’s American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI), which plans to double investment over a 10-year period in key federal agencies that support basic research programs emphasizing physical sciences and engineering. The NSF funding request of $6.02 billion is expected to support about 500 more research grants in 2007 and an estimated 6,400 additional scientists, students, and postdoctoral fellows.

The ASM would like to provide the following comments and recommendations on specific programs of interest and concern within the NSF budget.

Biological Sciences Directorate

The NSF Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) provides critical support for a broad array of biological sciences, particularly in areas such as environmental biology and plant sciences. BIO provides 66 percent of all federal support for non-medical biological research at academic institutions. Research programs range from the study of the structure and dynamics of biological molecules, such as proteins and nucleic acids, through cells, organs, and intact organisms to studies of populations and ecosystems. It encompasses processes that are internal to particular organisms as well as those that are external, and includes temporal frameworks ranging from immediate measurements through life spans of mere minutes for some microorganisms to the full scope of evolutionary time.

Basic research in the biosciences is key to understanding the living world from molecules to organisms to ecosystems, providing discoveries applicable to meeting health, environmental, agricultural, and energy needs. The FY 2007 budget request for the BIO directorate is $607.9 million, an increase of $31.6 million, or 5.4 percent, over the FY 2006 level. This increase will allow BIO to award about 95 more research grants in FY 2007 with an estimated funding rate of approximately 18 percent.

BIO Molecular and Cellular Biosciences: Microbial Biology Research

The Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB) Division within the Biological Sciences Directorate of the NSF includes research activities in microbiology that were transferred to the Emerging Frontiers subactivity for a new emphasis in Microbial Biology in FY 2006. The Microbial Observatories/Microbial Interactions and Processes Program (MO/MIP) has been returned to MCB for FY 2007. The ASM has received unsolicited comments about the transfer of the MO/MIP and its budgetary consequences from more than 100 individuals representing more than 40 institutions. The ASM would like to express its strong support for the MO/MIP program, and recommends Congress fund the program at $10 million, to allow for important research initiatives.

The MO/MIP was recently housed in Emerging Frontiers in recognition of the need for a distinct emphasis on microbial biology research that cannot be supported adequately in other programs. Transfer of the MO/MIP from Emerging Frontiers to the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB) raises questions about the NSF's intentions regarding the future of this program.

The ASM is concerned about the MO/MIP, since the pace of astounding discoveries in microbial biology has been increasing through applications of genomics and metagenomics. The MO/MIP program has been exemplary in achieving its goals. It supports research, training and outreach that are helping to define the future of microbiology and interdisciplinary efforts involving microbes. The MO/MIP is thriving and deserves expanded support and long-term commitments from NSF. Such commitments should be reflected in the 7.9 percent increase in the NSF's budget request to Congress, which includes a 5.4 percent increase for the Biological Sciences Directorate.

BIO Emerging Frontiers Programs

The budget request for the Emerging Frontiers (EF) subactivity for FY 2007 is for $99.16 million, an increase of about 23 percent over FY 2006. This increase is partly the result of the transfer of support for all BIO centers for centralization at the EF, including the two current centers, and two new centers expected to start in FY 2007. With the proposed transfer of the MO/MIP program to the MCB, just two microbial related programs are left within the EF, the Microbial Genome Sequencing Program and Ecology of Infectious Diseases.

The Microbial Genome Sequencing Program is to be conducted jointly with a competitive grants program in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, while the Ecology of Infectious Diseases is an interagency partnership with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to support 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 the unintended health effects of environmental change, and improved prediction of disease outbreaks, including the emergence or reemergence of disease agents. Examples of environmental factors include habitat transformation, biological invasion, biodiversity loss, and contamination. The ASM is concerned that these programs are being transferred out of an EF priority area and have level funding proposed for FY 2007.

BIO Division of Environmental Biology

The Division of Environmental Biology (DEB) priorities for FY 2007 are represented by four clusters focused on studies to accelerate the rate of discovery of new species, address the genealogical relationships of plants, animals, fungi, and microbes; illuminate the spatial and temporal dynamics of species interactions; discover the principles or rules by which species are assembled into functional communities and change through time; and determine the flux of energy and materials through ecosystems. The core research within the DEB will increase by $6.32 million due to the transfer of responsibility for funding the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis to Emerging Frontiers.

The DEB also supports the Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) program, a network of 26 comprehensive research sites located in areas that broadly represent the global range of natural, agricultural, and urban ecosystems. Support for the LTER program is requested to increase by $1.12 million in FY 2007, for a total of $19.6 million.

The ASM supports the FY 2007 budget request for the DEB of $109.6 million, an increase of 2.7 percent over FY 2006.

BIO National Nanotechnology Initiative


The National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) encompasses the systematic organization, manipulation, and control of matter at the 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. The NSF has been a pioneer among federal agencies in fostering the development of nanoscale science. The ASM supports the Administration’s FY 2007 request of $52.55 million for the NNI within BIO, a 7.2 percent increase over FY 2006.

National Ecological Observatory Network

The FY 2007 budget request for the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) throughout NSF is $24 million, an increase of $18 million over FY 2006. NEON has the potential to transform ecological research. The NEON program calls for developing a continental-scale research instrument consisting of geographically distributed infrastructure that will be networked via state-of-the-art communications to obtain a predictive understanding of the nation’s environment. A very large number of scientists, students, resource managers, and decision makers could make use of NEON data, both directly and indirectly, through the network capabilities and the internet. The ASM supports the Administration’s FY 2007 request of $24 million for NEON.

The $24 million includes: $6 million within the Biological Infrastructure division of BIO to continue implementation planning; $6 million within the Emerging Frontiers division for sensor array research and development; and $12 million within the Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction (MRE&FC) account at the NSF to assemble and evaluate the NEON fundamental technology unit (BioMesoNet, sensor micronets, and enabling cyberinfrastructure) that will be deployed.

Geosciences Directorate

The FY 2007 request proposes restructuring the Geosciences Directorate (GEO) to include a new subactivity, Innovative and Collaborative Education and Research (ICER), which will support multidisciplinary research and education activities that were previously done through the Atmospheric Sciences (ATM), Earth Sciences (EAR), and Ocean Sciences (OCE). The new ICER subactivity priorities include Ecology of Infectious Diseases, in partnership with the BIO directorate and the NIH. Additionally, the EAR and the OCE support other important microbiological research related to the earth’s diverse ecological systems and climate change. The ASM urges Congress to support the Administrations’ request of $744.9 million for GEO in FY 2007, a 6 percent increase over FY 2006.

Engineering Directorate

The FY 2007 request proposes restructuring the Engineering Directorate. The ASM has traditionally supported research conducted through the Bioengineering and Environmental Systems (BES) division. The proposed restructuring would combine the BES division with the Chemical and Transport Systems (CTS) division to become the Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental and Transport Systems (CBET) division. In FY 2006, BES was funded at $52 million and CTS at $70.8 million, for a total of $122.8 million. The FY 2007 request proposes increasing funding for CBET to $124.44.

The CBET will play a vital role in supporting research, innovation, and education in the rapidly evolving fields of bioengineering and environmental engineering. Including research on microbial fuel cells, liquid biofuels, and biohydrogen, as well as exploratory research in nanobiotechnology. The ASM recommends Congress support the increased funding for the CBET to foster technological innovations that will advance the global competitiveness of our industries and the health of our environment.

Conclusion

The NSF plays a key role in supporting basic science in the United States. Knowledge gained from the NSF studies directly benefits industry and contributes to the economy and US international competitiveness. There is a growing synergy among the biological, physical and social sciences, and US investment in science and technology should support all science.

The NSF is in a singular position among all the federal research and development agencies to support fundamental research in a wide range of important areas, including microbiology and molecular biology. The ASM urges Congress to support the Administration’s request of $6.02 billion for the NSF in FY 2007. The ASM believes the 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 the NSF for FY 2007.

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