Department of Energy - FY 2006 Testimony

The American Society for Microbiology (ASM), the largest single life science organization in the world, with more than 43,000 members, appreciates the opportunity to provide written testimony on the Fiscal Year (FY) 2006 budget for the Department of Energy (DOE) science programs. The mission of ASM is to enhance microbiology to gain a better understanding of basic life processes and to promote the application of this knowledge for improved health, economic, and environmental well being. Microbiological research is related to DOE programs involving microbial genomics, climate change, bioremediation, and basic biological processes important to energy sciences. The ASM supports a 7 percent increase, for a total of $3.85 billion, for the DOE Office of Science in FY 2006.

Strong Support is Needed for the DOE Office of Science

Scientific progress and the US economy continue to benefit from investments in the basic sciences made by the DOE Office of Science. The DOE Office of Science, the nation's primary supporter of the physical sciences, is also an essential partner in the areas of biological and environmental science research as well as in mathematics, computing, and engineering. Furthermore, the Office of Science supports a unique system of programs based on large-scale, specialized user facilities that bring together working teams of scientists focused on such challenges as global warming, genomic sequencing, and energy research. The Office of Science is an invaluable partner in several scientific programs of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF), and it supports peer-reviewed, basic research in DOE-relevant areas of science in universities and colleges across the United States. These cross-disciplinary programs contribute to the knowledge base and training of the next generation of scientists, while providing scientific cooperation across the sciences.

The Office of Science will play an increasingly important role in the Administration's goal of U.S. energy independence in this decade. Many DOE scientific research programs share the goal of producing and conserving energy in environmentally responsible ways. Programs include basic research projects in microbiology as well as extensive development of biotechnology-based systems to produce alternative fuels and chemicals, to recover and improve the process for refining fossil fuels, to remediate environmental problems, and to reduce wastes and pollution.

The Administration's proposed budget for FY 2006 requests $3.46 billion for the Office of Science, a decrease of about $140 million compared to the FY 2005 appropriation. This nearly 4 percent proposed cut for the Office of Science in FY 2006 is a significant departure from the congressionally authorized level of $4 billion. ASM recommends that Congress increase the DOE Office of Science to a level of $3.85 billion in the FY 2006 appropriation, an increase of $250 million over FY 2005.

 

Biological and Environmental Research (BER) Programs

The proposed budget for Biological and Environmental Research (BER) in FY 2006 is nearly $456 million, which is $126 million below the FY 2005 appropriation for these programs. DOE is the lead federal agency supporting genomic sequencing of non-pathogenic microbes through its Genomics: GTL Program. The sequence information being compiled through this program provides clues into how we can design biotechnology based processes that will function in extreme conditions and potentially could address pressing national priorities, such as energy and environmental security, bioremediation of waste sites, global warming and climate change, and energy production.

BER Genomics: GTL Program

ASM supports the Administration’s request of $87.2 million for the Genomics: GTL program in FY 2006, a $20 million increase over FY 2005.
Because microbes power the planet's carbon and nitrogen cycles, clean up our wastes, and make important transformations of energy, they are an important source of biotechnology products, making DOE research programs extremely valuable for advancing our knowledge of the non-medical microbial world. Knowing the complete DNA sequence of a microbe provides important clues about the biological capabilities of the organism and is an important step toward developing strategies for efficiently detecting, using, or reengineering particular microbes to address various national issues. The DOE Genomics: GTL genomic sequencing program has an important impact on nearly every other activity within BER.

In addition to this program, a substantial portion of the DOE Joint Genome Institute’s (JGI) sequencing capacity continues to be devoted to the sequencing of microbial genomes as well as DNA in mixed genomes obtained from microbial communities dwelling within specialized ecological niches. As part of these efforts, DOE continues to complete DNA sequences of genomes in microbes with potential uses in energy, waste cleanup, and carbon sequestration.

About 40 percent of the JGI capacity is dedicated to serving direct DOE needs, primarily through the Genomics: GTL program, while the remaining 60 percent of this capacity serves as a state-of-the-art DNA sequencing facility for whose use scientists submit proposals that are subject to merit review. These sequencing projects will be conducted at no additional cost for the extramural scientific community and are expected to have a substantial impact on the BER Environmental Remediation Sciences program, with much of this program focusing on such uses of microbes. In addition, the Genomics: GTL program will continue to have a major impact on the BER Climate Change Research program because of the role microbes play in the global carbon cycle and the potential for developing biology-based solutions for sequestering carbon.

The ASM urges Congress to fully support this exciting program and applauds DOE's leadership in recognizing this important need in science and endorses an expansion of the department’s microbial genome sequencing efforts, particularly in the use of DNA sequencing to learn more about the functions and roles of the many microorganisms that cannot be grown in culture and 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 and at more complex levels.

Environmental Remediation

The overall goal of the DOE Environmental Management Science Program (EMSP), which was transferred from Environmental Management to the BER program, is to support basic research that improves the science underpinning the cleanup of DOE sites. Traditional cleanup strategies may not work or be cost effective for remediating DOE sites. The EMSP, through its support of basic research, aims to develop and validate technical solutions to complex problems, providing innovative new technologies that reduce risks and provide savings in terms of costs and time.

DOE bioremediation activities are centered on the Natural and Accelerated Bioremediation Research (NABIR) program that supports basic research focused on determining how and where bioremediation may be applicable as a reliable, efficient, and cost-effective approach for cleaning up or containing metals and radionuclides in contaminated subsurface environments. In the NABIR program, research advances will be made from molecular to field scales; on genes and proteins used in bioremediation and in overcoming physicochemical impediments to bacterial activity; in non-destructive, real-time measurement techniques; on species interaction and response of microbial ecology to contamination; and in understanding microbial processes for altering the chemical state of metallic and radionuclide contaminants.

Additional EMSP research efforts focus on contaminant fate and transport in the subsurface, nuclear waste chemistry and advanced treatment options, and novel characterization and sensor tools. EMSP projects will continue to be subject to a competitive peer review process that identifies the most scientifically meritorious research proposals and applications to support, based on availability of funds and programmatic relevance to ensure a research portfolio that addresses DOE needs. Research will be funded at universities, national laboratories, and at private research institutes and industries. This research will be conducted in collaboration with the Office of Environmental Management.

The Administration's proposed FY 2006 budget for remediation research, including the NABIR program, is $94.7 million, a nearly $10 million decrease compared to $104.5 million for FY 2005. The DOE environmental remediation programs deserve sustained support.

Climate Change Research


The ASM is pleased to see the Administration's support of Climate Change Research continue in its FY 2006 budget. The President's proposed $143 million budget for this activity in FY 2006, is a modest increase over FY 2005. The Climate Change Research subprogram seeks to apply the latest scientific knowledge to the potential effects of greenhouse gas and aerosol emissions on the climate and the environment. This program is DOE's contribution to the interagency U.S. Global Change Research Program proposed by President George Walker Bush in 1989 and codified by Congress in the Global Change Research Act of 1990 (P.L. 101-106).

The Ecological Processes portion of the subprogram is focused on understanding and simulating the effects of climate and atmospheric changes on ecosystems. Research will also identify potential feedbacks from changes in the climate and atmospheric composition. This research is critical to better understanding of the changes occurring in ecosystems from increasing levels of atmospheric pollutants.

The ASM recommends continued support for this important research within the DOE Office of Science. This program is vital to advance understanding of energy balances between the surface of the Earth and the atmosphere and how this will affect the planet's climate and ecosystems.

Basic Energy Sciences

The Administration's requested funding for the Office of Basic Energy Sciences (BES) for FY 2006 is $1.146 billion, representing an increase of $41.4 million over FY 2005. This program is a principal sponsor of fundamental research for the nation in the areas of materials sciences, chemistry, geosciences, and biosciences as it relates to energy. The program supports initiatives in the microbiological and plant sciences focused on harvesting and converting energy from sunlight into 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. Advances in genomic technologies are giving this research area a tremendous new resource for advancing the Department’s bioenergy goals.

New Technologies and Unique Facilities

New technologies and advanced instrumentation derived from DOE's expertise in the physical sciences and in 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; and 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.

DOE has unique field research facilities for environmental research important to understanding biogeochemical cycles, global change, and cost-effective environmental restoration. DOE's ability to conduct large-scale science projects and draw on its unique capabilities in physics, mathematics and computer sciences, and engineering is critical for future biological research.

Conclusion

The ASM strongly supports DOE’s basic science agenda across the scientific disciplines and encourages Congress to maintain its commitment to these important research programs. ASM recommends that Congress increase funding for the DOE Office of Science to $3.85 billion in FY 2006.

The ASM appreciates the opportunity to provide written testimony and would be pleased to assist the Subcommittee as it considers its appropriation for the DOE for FY 2006.

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