Department of Energy - FY 2000 Testimony

The American Society for Microbiology (ASM), the largest single life science organization in the world, comprised of more than 43,000 members, appreciates the opportunity to provide written testimony on the Fiscal Year (FY) 2000 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.

In 1997, 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 proposed a government-wide Climate Change Technology Initiative (CCTI) to implement this commitment and to find solutions to problems associated with greenhouse gasses. The President's budget for DOE proposes $437 million for this initiative. These funds will be allocated throughout the Agency's programs including the Office of Science (SC). Biological research is slated to receive a significant boost from this initiative. As part of the CCTI, DOE will support microbiological research on carbon management science including basic studies on microorganisms that consume carbon, and on other microbes that assist in the development of carbon free energy sources. 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 budget request for DOE's science programs. The Administration's proposed budget for FY 2000 requests $17.8 billion for the DOE overall. Included in that request is $2.8 billion for programs supported by the Office of Science. The following comments focus on research supported by the Biological and Environmental Research (BER) and Basic Energy Sciences (BES) programs and make recommendations related to carbon management, 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.

Carbon Management Science:

An important component of the CCTI program in BER addresses the basic phenomena and strategies for managing the carbon budget of our terrestrial and ocean systems. Biological sequestration of carbon, both its capture and stability of the biologically produced carbon forms, has major effects on the global CO2 and methane concentrations. Furthermore, stored carbon such as soil carbon, has beneficial effects on plant growth, water retention in soil, and soil structure.

The President's budget proposes an increase from $5.5 million in FY 1999 to $13.0 million in FY 2000 for the carbon management research program. Approximately $5.8 million of this budget would be devoted to genome sequencing of microorganisms important to carbon sequestion and hydrogen production. ASM strongly supports this enhanced effort and believes that new understanding will be derived that will aid decisions about management of the global carbon cycle, and new biotechnologies discovered that can reduce CO2, convert carbon to useful products and stabilize fixed carbon.

Genomics:

DOE supports the Microbial Genome Program (MGP) within the Office of Biological and Environmental Research . The program, developed in 1994 as a compliment to the Human Genome Program, already provides complete genome sequence information on important microorganisms. The Administration has proposed $10 million for FY 2000, about $1 million more than last year.

Genome sequencing has revolutionized the scientific approach to understanding biology and is providing a depth of insight not previously possible. DOE's MGP has led the way in this new biological era, completing full genome sequences of several microorganisms important in energy and environmental processes. Now, however, other nations have seen the promise of this field of research and have mounted significant programs. Continued growth in the DOE MGP is critical to maintaining U.S. leadership in this important field. This research should include not only the genome sequencing but the functional analysis of those genomes, the associated software and databases to fully and efficiently analyze the information, and development of new technologies to help characterize the genes of unculturable microbes in nature.

In view of the tremendous potential to be derived form microbial genome sequencing, 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, and a bacterium that is extremely resistant to radiation, Deinococcus radiodurans. 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 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 level of $15 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 has begun 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 in a more cost-effective manner. The results of these initiatives will be readily available to other scientists, through the use of on-line 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 microorganisms compliments the research supported by the DOE's Natural and Accelerated Bioremediation Program (NABIR) and other DOE bioremediation research initiatives. The NABIR program is level funded from FY 1998 with a request for FY 2000 of $19.1 million. 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, which is more consistent with the original $40 million plan for the program.

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 NABIR program supports the basic research that is needed to understand this technology to more reliably develop the practical applications for cost-effective cleanup of pollutants at DOE sites. The ASM strongly recommends that additional funding be allocated to balance the program elements and pollutants studied as originally envisioned when the NABIR Program was designed.

Ocean Science:

Other exciting new microbiological research supported by BER is in the Ocean Sciences Program. The Administration's budget request includes $6.9 million for this program in FY'00. 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 $888.1 million for FY 2000. This funding level is an $88.6 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.

This program focuses on research in both microbiological and plant sciences that will lead to new discoveries in producing energy without risk to the environment and finding effective methods of cleaning up existing contamination. The CCTI effort of BES is proposed to increase from $8.0 million to $20.0 million in FY 2000. Research on the microbial role in the carbon cycle is an important part of this program.

Other microbiological research supported by this program includes biotechnology related to energy, 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 emitted 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, $6 million more than FY 1999 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 recommends that the CCTI programs in BER and BES receive the $33.0 million proposed for FY 2000, and that $5.8 million of this be devoted to genome sequencing of microorganisms important to global carbon management.
  • The ASM recommends $30 million be appropriated for the NABIR program to provide the funds necessary to sustain a balanced program of bioremediation research on chemicals important to DOE site cleanup.
  • The ASM fully supports the Administration's request for $6.9 million for the Ocean Sciences Program

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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