National Science Foundation - FY 2003 Testimony

The American Society for Microbiology (ASM), the largest single life science organization in the world, comprised of more than 42,000 members, appreciates the opportunity to provide written testimony on the Fiscal Year (FY) 2003 budget for the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The ASM represents scientists who work in academic, industrial, medical and governmental 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 following testimony will outline the ASM's funding recommendations for both the NSF and EPA research and development programs for FY 2003.

National Science Foundation

The ASM, as a member of the Coalition for National Science Funding (CNSF), endorses its recommendation to provide no less than $5.5 billion, a 15% increase, for the NSF in FY 2003. This would raise the NSF budget by $718 million from its current $4.79 billion level of funding for FY 2002. The ASM strongly supports Congress's continuing bipartisan commitment to strengthen science and long-term investments in basic research through the National Science Foundation's budget. A 15% increase would enable NSF to support additional excellent rated research projects in pursuit of important discoveries and innovations. In addition, increasing NSF's budget beyond the Administration's proposed $5 billion budget will allow the NSF to fund needed increases in the Major Research Equipment program, increase NSF grant sizes and duration, and support key initiatives, such as, Biocomplexity.

The NSF is the primary source of non-medical basic research support in the nation's colleges and universities. NSF is the only federal agency whose mission consists of comprehensive support for the sciences and engineering and is thus a major source of funds for training of our nation's intellectual capital. It is a key agency for supporting research that uses genomic information in new and creative ways. Other NSF initiatives will result in increased understanding of environmental and human microbial interactions, which have particular relevance to global environmental change as well as infectious diseases and represent a new frontier in scientific research.

NSF research concerned with the impact of microorganisms on the well being of humans, animals, plants and the environment is critical if science is to respond to the changing needs of society in the coming decades. The NSF is involved with several new partnerships that seek to bring multidisciplinary approaches to ecology, human health, and genomic sequencing. These efforts are supported by promising partnerships with the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and the Department of Energy (DOE). NSF's leadership in multidisciplinary research is a vital component of the nation's increasingly complex science enterprise and will help to ensure that opportunities for new scientists across the sciences remains attractive.

The ASM supports NSF's increased focus on microbial biology. Microorganisms surround us and affect our lives in many ways. They play key roles in processing our wastes, recycling the nutrients that support our agriculture, forests and fisheries, yield new pharmaceuticals, provide key tools for biotechnology, affect the quality of our food and water, control some pests (biocontrol), and cause disease. In this regard, the NSF is to be complimented for recognizing the important role microorganisms play in our well-being and in opportunities for basic science advances through its Microbial Biology Initiative (MBI). This effort has led to new programs such as the Microbial Observatories program, which focuses on the discovery of important but uncultured microorganisms. It also provided the foundation for NSF's participation in the interagency effort, "The Microbe Project." The NSF is one of twelve agencies involved in this project, which seeks to enhance knowledge of microbes by building needed infrastructure, promoting research and developing human resources in biology. Hence we encourage NSF to maintain its momentum in microbial biology programming to ensure that basic discoveries for this group of organisms are realized.

Biocomplexity (BE)

The ASM enthusiastically supports the President's proposed $79 million budget for FY 2003, an increase of $21 million over FY 2002
. Biocomplexity is a bold initiative that seeks to better understand the complexity of interactions between organisms and their environment so that human impact and trends in our global environment can be better understood and properly managed. Advances in the underlying disciplines from molecular biology, ecology and the geosciences to mathematics and the computational sciences have now made it feasible to begin to understand more complex interactions. Microorganisms are key components of the soil, water, plant, and animal environments and therefore are dominant factors in understanding these interactions. Furthermore, only a small percentage of the microbial species on earth are known, leaving their functional role unknown. These unknown organisms are the largest untapped source of biodiversity and a potential source of new pharmaceuticals, enzymes, biocontrol agents, and tools for nanotechnologies.

The ASM also endorses the programs new emphasis on microbial genomic sequencing ($15 million) and determining the ecology of infectious diseases ($6 million). The microbial sequencing project will focus on peer-reviewed microorganisms chosen for their fundamental biological interest, importance in agriculture and forestry, relevance to the safety and quality of the food and water supply, and as potential bioterrorism agents. The ecology program will build upon the interagency effort begun in 2000 between NIH, USDA, NSF, USGS, USDA, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). In FY 2003, the goal will be to develop predictive models and discover the principles in relationships between environmental factors and the transmission (i.e., vectors) of infectious agents. These two programs will contribute needed knowledge for developing strategies to assess and manage the risks of infectious diseases, modified organisms, and biological weapons.

The ASM is also pleased with the funding level within BE for the Tree of Life (ToL) Project. For FY 2003, the Administration proposes a $7.4 million budget. The NSF expects this program to capitalize on new and powerful computational and genomic technologies, which biologists' will then use to construct a universal genealogy for all 1.7 million named species of living organisms on Earth. The NSF expects the ToL project to be completed in ten years. The ToL project will require inter-disciplinary, inter-agency collaboration to meet the conceptual challenges of integrating genomic data for thousands of species, and will attract top-scientists and specialists from mathematics, software engineering, applied research, germplasm officers, and natural resource managers.

ASM applauds NSF's continued leadership in this exciting multidisciplinary field and urges Congress to fully support Biocomplexity.

National Ecological Observatory Network

The National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) is a continental-scale facility composed of 10 distinct geographically distributed, networked observatories that will serve as a platform for integrated research across the life sciences. NEON will allow for the first time, teams of scientist to monitor the environment as it changes, providing new insights into regional and national ecological health and sensitivity. NEON will require new technologies, approaches and methodologies and will provide an opportunity for scientists to break new ground on cutting edge equipment and instrumentation that is so crucial to moving science forward. NEON sites will also provide opportunities for other agency scientists to work in partnership with NSF grantees on multidisciplinary projects that will enhance all of the sciences.

The Administration has proposed $12 million for the new initiative in FY 2003. The ASM is encouraged by this level of funding; however, the ASM recommends that the Subcommittee build upon the President's request and fund NEON at $20 million for FY 2003. This level of funding would allow the construction of one complete observatory and a more rapid completion of the NEON initiative.

The ASM requests that Congress give high priority to increasing the NSF's funding by at least 15 percent for FY 2003. Most of today's scientific achievements leading to the development of biotechnology, antifreeze proteins, improved crops and plant-based products, new antibiotics and pharmaceuticals and DNA fingerprinting have their roots in basic research supported by the NSF. The many future public health and environmental challenges the United States will face can only be overcome through the potential of basic research to generate crucial new scientific knowledge and advancements that lead to new technologies for the future.