Department of Energy - FY 2002 Testimony

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

The ASM represents scientists working in academic, medical, governmental and industrial institutions worldwide. Microbiological research is focused on human health and the environment and is directly related to DOE programs involving microbial genomics, climate change, bioremediation and basic biological processes important to energy sciences.

The ASM strongly supports the basic science programs of the DOE, which fund important fundamental discoveries that lead to developments in alternative fuels, improvements in the refinement process of fossil fuels, environmental remediation and reduction of wastes and pollution. These programs are critical for the United States to develop the science to respond to the challenges of global warming and to solve the nation's growing demand for reliable and environmentally safe energy.

The DOE Office of Science (SC) provides the primary source of support for the physical sciences and is an essential partner in areas of biological and environmental science research as well as in mathematics, computing and engineering. The SC complements the scientific programs of the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation and supports peer reviewed, basic research in DOE-relevant areas of science in universities and colleges across the United States, contributing enormously to the knowledge base and training of the next generation of scientists.

ASM comments focus on research supported by the Biological and Environmental Research (BER) and Basic Energy Sciences (BES) programs and make recommendations on several programs that include microbiology research.

Microbial Genomics

DOE is the lead agency supporting the genomic sequencing of non-pathogenic microbes. Since these bacteria and fungi make up the vast majority of microbes on earth and power the planet's carbon and nitrogen cycles, clean up our wastes, make important transformations of energy, live in extreme conditions and are an important source of biotechnology products, the genome sequences of these microbes are extremely valuable for advancing our knowledge of the non-medical microbial world. ASM applauds DOE's leadership in recognizing this important need in science and endorses expansion of its microbial genome sequencing efforts, particularly in using DNA sequencing to learn more about the functions and roles of the 99% of the microbial world that cannot yet be grown in culture. DOE's role in this science frontier needs to be expanded.

Microbial Cell Project

During the last decade, scientists have determined the sequence of millions of DNA base pairs from the genomes, containing the complete genetic instructions, for a rapidly growing number of important microbes. As the number of sequenced microbes increases, and sequencing costs continue to decrease, scientists are faced with the important task of deciphering how the information in the DNA sequence determines cell function, in short, how a cell assembles functional pathways and systems from those genome-determined parts. Since microbial cells are the simplest cells, The Microbial Cell Project (MCP) represents a logical start to understand the meaning of genome sequences in a comprehensive and functional manner. MCP builds upon previous research sponsored by the DOE Office of Science, e.g. the Microbial Genome Program, itself a spin-off of the DOE Human Genome Program. The ASM applauds the bold vision of DOE in starting the MCP and notes that this represents the kind of interdisciplinary science that DOE has done successfully in the past, making use of advanced technologies, specialized facilities, teams of scientists, and computational power. The ASM also sees this program as the basis for an expanded effort to understand more broadly how genomic information can be used to understand life at the cellular level and urges Congress to fully support this exciting program.

Basic Energy Science

This program includes initiatives in both microbiological and plant sciences focused on harvesting and converting energy from sunlight into energy feedstocks such as cellulose and other products of photosynthesis, as well as how those chemicals may be further converted into energy rich molecules such as methane, hydrogen and ethanol. Alternative and renewable energy sources will remain of strategic importance in the nation's energy portfolio, and DOE is well positioned to advance basic research in this area. The advances in genomic technologies have given this research area a tremendous new resource for advancing the Agency's bioenergy goals.

Bioremediation

DOE's bioremediation research is largely supported through the Natural and Accelerated Bioremediation Program (NABIR). This is a well coordinated, comprehensive basic research program comprised of seven interrelated research elements. The quality of the research has been outstanding and is probably the best example of basic research advances on this challenging topic area supported by the federal government. Many of the nation's pollution problems cannot be solved by simple, existing technologies, which is particularly true of DOE's metal and radionuclide contaminated sites. Hence, the basic research effort supported by NABIR is particularly appropriate for DOE. ASM notes that the funding of NABIR was reduced by 20% last year. ASM endorses the NABIR program and recommends that the funding be restored to the FY 2000 level of $25 million.

New Technologies and Unique Facilities

New technologies and advanced instrumentation derived from DOE's expertise in the physical sciences and engineering have become increasingly valuable to biologists. The beam lines and other advanced technologies for determining molecular structures of cell components are at the heart of current advances to understand cell function and have practical applications for new drug design. DOE advances in high throughput, low cost DNA sequencing; protein mass spectrometry; cell imaging and computational analyses of biological molecules and processes are other unique contributions of DOE to the nation's biological research enterprise. Furthermore, DOE has unique field research facilities for environmental research important to understanding biogeochemical cycles, global change and cost-effective environmental restoration. In short, DOE's ability to conduct large-scale science projects and draw on its unique capabilities in physics, computation and engineering is critical for future biological research.

DOE's research programs play a major role in keeping 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 science and technology.

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