Department of Energy - FY 2008 Testimony

The American Society for Microbiology (ASM) is pleased to submit the following testimony on the Fiscal Year (FY) 2008 appropriation for the Department of Energy (DOE) science programs. The ASM is the largest single life science organization with more than 42,000 members. The ASM mission is to enhance the science of microbiology, to gain a better understanding of life processes, and to promote the application of this knowledge for improved health and for economic and environmental well-being.

The DOE Office of Science supports research that drives discovery and innovation to create alternative energy sources, efficient energy production, and a sustainable environment. Increased resources for the DOE Office of Science are necessary to meet these challenges and the ASM supports the President’s request of $4.398 billion for the DOE Office of Science, an increase of $602 million over the FY 2007 funding level.

The requested increase is consistent with the American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI) and the Advanced Energy Initiative (AEI). DOE supported research on microbial biology is essential in meeting the goals of these initiatives. Microbial biology research is critical for advances in bioenergy. Microbial research contributions includes:

  • Novel bioenergy production methods, and improved biofuel production by microbes. Different microbes produce a variety of energy products such as ethanol, hydrogen, oils and even electrical current. Discovery of new processes that use microbes and microbes that enhance the efficiency of these processes, genetic engineering microbes that achieve this goal and learning to manage consortia of microbes to optimize biofuel production are all needs that will enhance the economics of bioenergy.
  • Discovery of novel plant cell wall decomposition enzymes. Microbes have a tremendous diversity of undiscovered biochemical capabilities, including enzymes that naturally recycle biomass. Capturing this diversity for more efficient release of plant carbon for conversion to energy is a central need for better bioenergy processes.
  • Efficient, sustainable plant-soil systems for biofuel production. Healthy, low-cost, and productive plant communities require a supportive soil microbial community to recycle nutrients, protect against root pathogens, produce plant growth factors, fix nitrogen and aid soil structure. Furthermore, management of these plant-soil systems must be done to minimize greenhouse gas production.

The ASM strongly encourages DOE to support a balanced research portfolio as it seeks to increase production of bioenergy sources. While the ASM recognizes that the AEI and ACI are critical for meeting the nation’s competitiveness and energy challenges, it also encourages the DOE to maintain support for other science and technology solutions to long-term environmental challenges, such as climate change and environmental remediation.

Biological and Environmental Research

Within the DOE Office of Science, the Biological and Environmental Research (BER) division uses peer-reviewed research at national laboratories, universities, and private institutions to build a science, technology, and knowledge base for understanding and harnessing the capabilities of microbial and plant systems that will lead to cost-effective, renewable energy production, greater energy security, clean-up of legacy wastes, and mitigation of increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide. The ASM supports the President’s request to fund the BER at $510 million, an increase of $70 million over FY 2007 for base BER programs, with $75 million directed to GTL Bioenergy Research Centers.

BER research programs such as the Genomic: GTL program, Environmental Remediation Sciences Division (ERSD), the Joint Genome Institute (JGI), and Climate Change programs are instrumental for understanding microbial biology, how microorganisms interact with and respond to their environments, and how microorganisms can be harnessed to produce clean, efficient energy, remove excess carbon from the atmosphere, and help clean up the environment.

The FY 2008 request for BER would support about 1,500 graduate students and post-doctoral investigators at universities and national laboratories. Fellowship programs are also supported by BER for undergraduate and graduate students through its Global Change Education Program. This support for undergraduate and graduate students and post-doctoral investigators is critical for the development of the next generation of scientists, engineers, and science educators.

Genomics: GTL

GTL research conducts explorations of microbes and plants at the molecular, cellular, and community levels. The goal is to gain insights about fundamental biological processes and, ultimately, a predictive understanding of how living systems operate. The resulting knowledge base—linked through DNA sequence and freely available—will catalyze the translation of science into new technologies for energy and environmental applications.

Microbes make up the foundation of the biosphere and sustain all life on earth. DOE has sponsored the genome sequencing of key model plants and some 200 microbes relevant for generating clean energy, cleaning up toxic waste from nuclear weapons development, and cycling carbon from the atmosphere.

In May 2006, the National Research Council, of the National Academies of Science, completed an independent review of the Genomics: GTL program that endorsed the systems biology approach of the program, applauded the research conducted by its grantees, and recommended the formation of interdisciplinary research centers focused on fundamental research addressing DOE mission needs, including bioenergy. The DOE embraced this recommendation, and is currently reviewing proposals for GTL Bioenergy Research Centers. The Administration requested that $75 million be provided in FY 2008 for three of these centers. The ASM believes the GTL Bioenergy Research Centers are an important step forward to addressing national energy needs but they must be supplemented by a vigorous and well funded research effort. Funding for the GTL centers should not be at the expense of the core BER science programs.

Environmental Remediation Sciences Division

The Environmental Remediation Sciences Division (ERSD) sponsors and supports fundamental scientific research to understand the complex physical, chemical, and biological properties of contaminated sites for new solutions to environmental remediation. DOE is responsible for the largest, most complex, and diverse collection of environmental remediation challenges in the nation.

DOE’s remediation challenges occur in the field where highly interactive natural processes, over a broad range of scales, control the fate and transport of contaminants. The ERSD goal is to help provide the basis for development of innovative remediation measures to support decision making critical to long-term stewardship. Of the 144 sites where DOE has remediation, waste management, or nuclear materials and facility stabilization responsibilities, nearly 100 have soils, sediments, or groundwater contaminated with radionuclides, metals, or organic materials.

The ASM is concerned with the steady decline in funding for the ERSD from FY 2004 to FY 2007. The ERSD research conducted on microbes is an essential component in developing effective, sustainable remediation technologies. ASM urges Congress to provide at least the President’s FY 2008 request of $97.4 million for ERSD.

Joint Genome Institute

The DOE Joint Genome Institute (JGI) has completed the sequence of the 100 microbial genomes and released this information for the benefit of the global research community. The JGI is the primary source of genomic data for non-medical microbiology and immensely benefits the community.

The JGI’s Community Sequencing Program (CSP) devotes all of its sequencing capacity to the merit-reviewed sequencing needs of the broader non-medical scientific community, while addressing the DOE mission-relevant criteria of energy production, carbon sequestration, research and bioremediation research, and low dose radiation research. JGI is an integral component as the area of metagenomics for both energy and carbon sequestration grows.

The ASM supports the President’s FY 2007 request of $62 million for JGI, a $10.5 million increase over FY 2006, and a $2 million increase over the President’s FY 2008 request.

Climate Change Research

The mission of the Climate Change Research subprogram is to provide the scientific base for making predictions and assessments of the potential effects of greenhouse gases and aerosol emissions on climate and the environment, such as abrupt climate change, understanding the global carbon cycle and the development of approaches for enhancing biological carbon sequestration in terrestrial ecosystems. The ASM supports the President’s FY 2008 request of $138 million for Climate Change Research.

Research exploring the responses and behavior of microorganisms in ecosystems is necessary in understanding the changes in the expanded plant and animal systems. Greater collaboration with the Genomics: GTL program and climate change research would provide a stronger basis for understanding the core elements of the ecosystem and its responses. The ASM urges greater linkages between the GTL program and Climate Change Research, similar to the current collaborative relationship between GTL and the ERSD.

Workforce Development

Cultivating a well-trained workforce of teachers and scientists is vital for maintaining our nation’s competitiveness, and meeting the challenges of the future. The ASM supports the President’s request of $11 million for Workforce Development for Scientists and Engineers within the DOE Office of Science, through undergraduate research internships, graduate and faculty fellowships, and pre-college activities. These programs build links between the national laboratories and the science education community provides mentor intensive research experiences at national laboratories for undergraduate and graduate students, and encourages middle and high school students in the fields of math and science.

Conclusion

The ASM supports the President’s 16 percent increase for the DOE Office of Science in FY 2008, and urges Congress to provide adequate funding for the BER, including ERSD, Genomics: GTL, JGI, and Climate Change Research programs, which are essential in meeting DOE’s mission. The DOE Office of Science programs enhance US competitiveness through fundamental research for advanced scientific breakthroughs that will revolutionize our approach to the nation’s energy and environment challenges.

The ASM appreciates the opportunity to provide written testimony and would be pleased to assist the Subcommittee as it considers the FY 2008 appropriation for the DOE.

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