Department of Energy - FY 2007 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 Administration’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2007 budget proposal for the Department of Energy (DOE) science programs. The ASM mission is to enhance microbiology, to gain a better understanding of basic life processes, and to promote the application of this knowledge to improve health, economic, and environmental well-being.

The DOE supports microbiological research through programs involving microbial genomics, climate change, bioremediation, and analyses of basic biological processes important in the search for alternative energy sources. The ASM commends and supports the Administration’s recommended 14 percent increase for a total of $4.1 billion for the DOE Office of Science. The DOE Office of Science is one of the three priority agencies in the President’s American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI), which supports a wide range of research and development related to scientific innovation.

Strong Support Is Needed for the DOE Office of Science

Scientific progress and the US economy continue to benefit from investments in basic sciences made by the DOE Office of Science. The DOE Office of Science, the nation's primary source of support for research in the physical sciences, is also an essential partner in several critical areas of biology and environmental science 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 teams of scientists focused on such challenges as global warming, genomic sequencing, and energy research. The Office of Science is also an invaluable partner with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) through its support for several important interdisciplinary research efforts. The Office of Science also supports peer-reviewed, basic research at universities and colleges across the US in science areas relevant to the DOE. These programs contribute to the knowledge base and training of the next generation of scientists.

The Office of Science will play an important role in the American Competitiveness Initiative, which seeks to double federal spending in the sciences during the next decade. In particular, the federal Advanced Energy Initiative aims to reduce American dependence on imported energy resources. Many of the DOE scientific research programs share the goal of producing and conserving energy in environmentally responsible ways. These programs include basic research projects in microbiology as well as extensive development of biotechnology-based systems to produce alternative fuels and chemicals from biomass, to recover and improve processes for refining fossil fuels, to remediate environmental problems, and to reduce wastes and pollution. Our nation’s future competitiveness and innovation capabilities rely inclusively on all basic sciences and technologies. The Administration's proposed budget for FY 2007 requests $4.1 billion for the Office of Science. The ASM recommends that Congress support the proposed budget of $4.1 billion for the DOE Office of Science in the FY 2007 appropriation, an increase of $505 million over FY 2006.

Biological and Environmental Research (BER) Programs


The proposed budget for the base programs of the Biological and Environmental Research (BER) program in FY 2007 is $510 million, a $59 million increase over FY 2006. For over 50 years, the BER program has been advancing environmental and biomedical knowledge that promotes national security through improved energy production, development, and use; international scientific leadership that underpins our nation’s technological advances; and research that improves the quality of life for all Americans.

BER Genomics: GTL Program

The 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 knowledge into how to design biotechnology-based processes that will function in extreme conditions and could potentially address national priorities, such as energy and environmental security, bioremediation of waste sites, global warming and climate change, and energy production. Microbes power global carbon and nitrogen cycles, clean up wastes, and transform energy. They are an important source of biotechnology products, making the 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 key national energy and environmental issues. The DOE Genomics: GTL genomic sequencing program has an important impact on nearly every other activity within BER. ASM supports the Administration’s request of $135 million for the Genomics: GTL program in FY 2007, a $50 million increase over FY 2006. In addition to this program, a substantial portion of the analytic capacity within the DOE Joint Genome Institute (JGI) continues to be devoted to the sequencing of individual microbial genomes as well as the DNA in mixtures from microbial communities dwelling within specialized ecological niches. As part of these efforts, the DOE continues to analyze 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 the DOE’s direct 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 scientists who submit proposals subject to merit review. These sequencing projects will be conducted at no additional cost for the wider scientific community and are expected to have a substantial impact on the BER Environmental Remediation Sciences program, with much of this program focused on using microbes to cleanup environmental sites. 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 processes for sequestering carbon.

The ASM supports the Administration’s request for $62 million to continue supporting the Joint Genome Institute program in FY 2007. The ASM applauds the DOE's leadership in recognizing this important need in science and endorses expanding these microbial genome sequencing efforts, particularly to learn more about the functions and roles of the many microorganisms that resist efforts to be grown in culture. This program provides a basis for using genomic information more broadly to understand life at the cellular and at even more complex levels.

Environmental Remediation

The overall goal of the DOE Environmental Remediation subprogram (ER) is to support research that improves the science underpinning the cleanup of the DOE’s sites and to support related operations. Because traditional cleanup strategies may not work or be cost effective, the ER subprogram supports basic research that aims to develop and validate technical solutions to these complex remediation problems. The goal is to develop innovative new remediation technologies that reduce risks and provide savings in costs and time. The ASM supports the Administration’s request for nearly $97.2 million for the Environmental Remediation subprogram in FY 2007. The DOE environmental remediation programs deserve sustained support.

Climate Change Research

Although the ASM is pleased to see that the Administration is continuing to support Climate Change Research in its FY 2007 budget, the proposed budget of nearly $135 million for this important activity is a $6.5 million decrease from FY 2006. 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 the DOE's contribution to the interagency US Global Change Research Program proposed by President Bush in 1989 and codified by Congress in the Global Change Research Act of 1990 (P.L. 101-106).

The Ecological Processes portion of this 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. 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. The ASM recommends continued support for important Climate Change research within the DOE Office of Science.

Basic Energy Sciences

The Administration request for the Office of Basic Energy Sciences (BES) for FY 2007 is $1.4 billion, an increase of $28.6 million over FY 2006. The ASM is concerned with BES’s efforts to move away from energy biosciences research. This program is a principal sponsor of fundamental research for the nation in the areas of materials sciences, chemistry, geosciences, and biosciences as they relate 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 are of strategic importance to the US energy portfolio, and the DOE is advancing basic research in this critical area. Genomic technologies are a tremendous new resource for further advancing the DOE’s bioenergy goals.

New Technologies and Unique Facilities

New technologies and advanced instrumentation derived from the DOE’s expertise in the physical sciences and engineering have become increasingly valuable to biologists. Beam lines at the DOE’s facilities and other advanced technologies for determining molecular structures of cell components are advancing our understanding of cell functions and are being applied to new drug design. The DOE advances in areas such as high-throughput, low-cost DNA sequencing, mass spectrometry, cell imaging, and computational analyses of biological molecules and processes are critical to our national biological research enterprise. The ASM supports recommended funding of $15 million for infrastructure development of research user facilities under BER. The DOE has unique field research facilities for conducting environmental research that is important for understanding biogeochemical cycles and global change, and for restoring environmental sites. The DOE's ability to conduct large-scale science projects and to draw on physics, mathematics and the computer sciences, and engineering is also critical for biological research.

CONCLUSION

The ASM supports the recommended 14 percent increase for a total of $4.102 billion for the DOE Office of Science in FY 2007, and recommends strong support for the DOE BER programs.  The ASM appreciates the opportunity to provide written testimony and would be pleased to assist the Subcommittee as it considers the FY 2007 appropriation for the DOE.

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