Department of Energy - FY 1999 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) 1999 budget for the Department of Energy's (DOE) research programs.

The ASM represents scientists who work throughout academic, governmental and industrial 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 ASM strongly supports the inclusion of basic science programs within the DOE. While relatively small in terms of the overall DOE appropriation, these programs provide important fundamental discoveries that establish the foundation for subsequent developments in biotechnology related to energy and the environment. It is imperative for the United States to maintain a strong science budget that supports basic research.

Along with enhanced appropriations to fund specific program areas, it is important that the DOE receive increases in administrative budgets to properly staff and manage fundamental science programs. Investments in well-managed basic and applied science programs can produce long term benefits. Over the past decade, scientific research has become more interdisciplinary. It is essential that DOE have the resources necessary to adapt to these changes in science and to hire the necessary experts to manage programs effectively. This will allow the Agency to make educated program and funding decisions based on cross-disciplinary scientific expertise.

Many DOE scientific research programs share the common goal of producing and conserving energy in environmentally responsible ways. Areas of research include basic research projects in microbiology, as well as, extensive development of biotechnological systems to produce alternative fuels and chemicals, to recover fossil fuels, to improve the refinement process of fossil fuels, to remediate environmental problems, and to reduce wastes and pollution.

Last year, the United States signed the Kyoto Protocol and committed to reduce the nation's carbon dioxide emissions to eight percent below 1990 levels. The Administration has proposed a government-wide Climate Change Technology Initiative (CCTI) to implement this commitment and help to find solutions to problems associated with greenhouse gasses. The President's budget proposes $331 million to the DOE for this initiative. These funds will be allocated throughout the Agency's programs including the Office of Energy Research (OER). Biological research is slated to receive a significant boost from this initiative. As part of the CCTI, DOE will support microbiological research on carbon sequestration including microorganisms that consume carbon, and other microbes that assist in the development of carbon free energy sources. This research will be supported throughout the program offices of the OER. Combating global warming is critical and these programs will make significant contributions to the long-term battle to maintain the quality of our atmosphere.

The ASM is encouraged by the President's request for DOE's science programs.

The Administration's proposed budget for FY 1999 requests $18 billion for the DOE overall. Included in that request is $2.7 billion for programs supported by the OER. The following comments will highlight research supported by the Office of Health and Environmental Research (OHER), and the Division of Energy Biosciences in the Office of Basic Energy Sciences (BES). The following statement makes recommendations related to genomics, bioremediation, ocean science, and basic energy science. Federal investment in these programs today will help to ensure fundamental research to find solutions to future environmental and energy problems while maintaining U.S. scientific leadership worldwide.

Genomics:

DOE supports the Microbial Genome Program (MGP) within the Office of Biological and Environmental Research (BER). The program, developed in 1994 as a compliment to the Human Genome Program, already provides complete sequence information on important microorganisms. The Administration has proposed $13 million for FY 1999, about $7 million more than last year. About $5 million of this increase are new funds associated with the CCTI. Last year the ASM urged Congress to double the microbial genome budget in an effort to increase research in this critical area of science.

The ASM recommends that Congress provide $15 million, for the MGP. A base funding level of $10 million to sequence critical organisms within the scope of DOE's mission should be provided to the MGP. Funding from the CCTI should serve as an add-on to the program for specialized sequences of organisms related to the mission of the CCTI.

Researchers supported by the MGP have already sequenced several complete microbial genomes, including ones from methanogens living in deep-sea thermal vent regions. Shortly, the genome of Deinococcus radiodurans, a bacterium that is extremely resistant to radiation, will be completely sequenced. This sequence information provides clues into how we can design biotechnological processes that will function in extreme conditions, including ones that will generate fuels and help clean up the environment. With each new genome that is sequenced we gain a greater understanding of microbial evolution and diversity. Also, each sequenced genome has revealed how much more science needs to learn. Thirty percent of each genome has no known function. This presents a great challenge for scientists to unravel the genomes significance for understanding microbial evolution and the potential for biotechnological developments.

The MGP contributes to the overall health and environmental quality of the nation by researching solutions to some of the nation's most complex environmental problems such as toxic waste cleanup and processing, future alternative energy production and efficiency, and the reduction of carbon gasses from our atmosphere. This program provides essential research in biotechnology, and a better understanding of the energy process, and bioremediation. The MGP is at the cutting edge of microbiological research. As part of the CCTI the MGP will support more research into methane and hydrogen production and reduction. As scientists learn more about the diversity of microorganisms, especially those that live in extreme conditions, they learn more about how to develop newer, cleaner forms of energy, technologies to clean up the waste associated with energy production and consumption, and protective technologies from radiation.

The DOE has established the necessary peer review and advisory program to the MGP to ensure that the microorganisms selected for sequencing will yield the greatest scientific informational benefits and that the research is of the highest quality. Important new knowledge has been gained from each and every genome sequenced. The ASM believes that even greater benefits would be achieved if the program were funded at the requested level of $13 million and strongly urges this Subcommittee to consider adding these funds to the Microbial Genome Program for support of competitive research.

The DOE has expanded its research into microbial diversity, and will begin sequencing the genomes of bioremediative microorganisms. Due to a scientific approach called sequence leveraging, a practice of using previously sequenced microbes to build the sequences of similar non-sequenced microbes, the results of these initiatives will be more readily available to other scientists, through the use of databases. All genome sequences supported by the MGP are available to the public and as such contribute to further scientific exploration. The public disclosure of genomic data will aid scientists in their research into new biotechnologies such as bioremediation, a technology that is proving to be a practical and a cost-effective way of eliminating pollutants.

Bioremediation:

The MGP's research into bioremediative microoganisms compliments the research supported by the DOE's Natural and Accelerated Bioremediation Program (NABIR) and other DOE bioremediation research initiatives. The Administration's request for DOE bioremediation research is $28.0 million for FY 1999. This program is level funded from FY 1998. For FY 1999, included in this request is nearly $22 million for the NABIR program, and $1.5 million for the Microbial Genome Program. The ASM supports the Administration's request for bioremediation research. However, the ASM believes that greater benefits will be achieved if the NABIR program is increased to $30 million, providing about $41 million for bioremediation overall.

Bioremediation scientists are searching for cost-effective technologies to improve current remediation methods to clean up DOE's contaminated sites. This research will lead to new discoveries into reliable methods of bioremediation of metals and radionuclides as well as organic pollutants in soils and groundwater. The FY 1998 appropriation included funds for one field research site. The ASM's recommendation of $30 million for NABIR will provide the funds necessary to sustain two field research sites. The NABIR program supports real world field research that works to determine the practical applications of bioremediation for cost-effective cleanup of pollutants at DOE sites. Field research is a critical phase of this program. The ASM strongly recommends that additional funding be allocated to this effort with the aim of ensuring that two field research sites be established that span the breadth of pollution problems faced by the sites managed by the DOE and others.

Ocean Science:

Other exciting new microbiological research supported by BER is in the Ocean Sciences Program. The Administration's budget request includes $2.1 million for this program in FY 99. Microbiological research supported by the Ocean Sciences Program investigates the effects global change has on marine microbes. The findings from this program will be crucial to understanding the responses of marine biological systems to changes in their environments. The ASM fully supports the Administration's request for this program.

Basic Energy Sciences:

The Administration's requested funding level for the Office of Basic Energy Sciences is $836.1 million for FY 1999. This funding level is an $168.8 million increase over last year. BES funds important microbiological basic research programs through the Energy Biosciences Division. In fact, about one fifth of all BES funds go directly to support research at academic institutions across the nation.

For FY 1999, the budget proposal has funded the Energy Biosciences Division within the BES at about $32 million, an increase of $5.1 million over last year. This program focuses on research in both microbiological and plant sciences. The exciting research supported by DOE's Energy Biosciences will lead to new discoveries in producing energy without risk to the environment and finding effective methods of cleaning up existing contamination. This year Energy Biosciences will focus on research into the reduction of carbon emissions as part of the CCTI. One area related to microbiology will be research into carbon consuming microorganisms.

Other microbiological research supported by this program includes biotechnology related to energy, mechanisms occurring in microorganisms, biofuel production, and technologies to aid in the restoration of contaminated environmental sites. More basic research on hydrogen, methane, and ethanol production is needed if we are to meet future energy needs and to have fuels that will minimize environmental pollution. The ASM supports the proposed funding level for this program and urges Congress to allocate these funds for the Energy Biosciences.

Conclusion:

DOE's research programs help to keep the United States at the forefront of scientific discovery and competitive in the world marketplace. The ASM encourages Congress to maintain its commitment to the Department of Energy research programs to maintain the United States' leadership in these vital industries and continue our commitment to a strong basic science program.

The debate over the effect of greenhouse gasses on the environment is complex. While some may disagree about the severity of the greenhouse problem, most will agree that the reduction of industrial gasses into the atmosphere will provide more long term environmental benefits than continuing to increase the rate these gasses enter our atmosphere. In Kyoto, the United States committed to significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere. DOE's basic research programs support research that investigates solutions to existing and future environmental and energy problems. Through the leadership of DOE's basic research science in clean fuels, and environmental processes, new technologies will be developed to enable the U.S. to be better prepared to meet environmental problems and the economic challenges associated with them.

In summary, the ASM makes the following recommendations:

The ASM believes that it is imperative for the United States to maintain a strong science budget that supports basic research.

It is essential that the DOE receive sufficient increases in administrative budgets to properly staff and manage biological science programs.

The ASM recommends that Congress provide $15 million, $9 million more than FY 1998 funding, for the Microbial Genome Program. The MGP should have a base funding level of $10 million to sequence critical organisms within the scope of DOE's mission. Funding from the Climate Change Technology Initiative should serve as an add-on to the program for specialized sequences of organisms related to the mission of the CCTI.

The ASM's recommends $30 million be appropriated for the NABIR program to provide the funds necessary to sustain two field research sites and an increase in bioremediation research. This recommendation would bring DOE's overall bioremediation budget to $41 million for FY 1999.

The ASM fully supports the Administration's request for $2.1 for the Ocean Sciences Program.

The ASM recommends the Energy Biosciences Division within the BES receive $32 million for FY 1999, an increase of $5.1 million over last year's funding.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide testimony in support of the DOE basic life sciences programs. The ASM hopes that its recommendations will be useful to the Subcommittee. We would be pleased to respond to any questions.

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