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) 2003 budget for the Department of Energy (DOE) science programs.
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 scientific enterprise has benefited enormously from the investments in the basic sciences made by the DOE Office of Science. The DOE Office of Science is the nation's primary supporter of the physical sciences and is 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 also an invaluable contributor to the scientific programs of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) and supports peer-reviewed, basic research in DOE-relevant areas of science in universities and colleges across the United States. These cross-disciplinary programs contribute enormously to the knowledge base and training of the next generation of scientists while providing worldwide scientific cooperation in physics, chemistry, biology, environmental science, mathematics, and advanced computational 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 common goal of producing and conserving energy in environmentally responsible ways. Programs include basic research projects in microbiology, as well as, extensive development of biotechnological systems to produce alternative fuels and chemicals, to recover and improve the refinement process of fossil fuels, to remediate environmental problems, and to reduce wastes and pollution.
The Administration's proposed budget for FY 2003 requests $22 billion for the DOE overall, an increase of $600 million or 2.7% and $3.3 billion for the Office of Science, an increase of $4 million over FY 2002. The ASM would like to submit the following comments and recommendations for funding levels for research in the Biological and Environmental Research (BER) and Basic Energy Sciences (BES) programs for FY 2003.
Microbial Genomics Program (MGP)
The DOE is the lead agency supporting the genomic sequencing of non-pathogenic microbes. This sequenced information provides clues into how we can design biotechnological processes that will function in extreme conditions and potentially solve pressing national priorities, such as, biosecurity, global warming, and energy production. The Administration has requested $11 million for FY 2003, which is essentially flat with FY 2002. In view of the tremendous potential of microbial genomic sequencing, the ASM recommends that Congress provide $15 million for FY 2003. DOE's role in this science frontier needs to be expanded.
Since 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, and are extremely valuable for advancing our knowledge of the non-medical microbial world. Knowing the complete DNA sequence of a microbe provides important keys to the biological capabilities of the organism and is the first step in developing strategies to more efficiently detect, counteract, use, or reengineer that microbe to address an assortment of national issues. The DOE has completed the DNA sequencing of more than 50 microbes with potential uses in energy, waste cleanup, and carbon sequestration. For instance, the recently sequenced Deinococcus radiodurans, a bacterium that is extremely resistant to radiation. Deinocccus radiodurans could potentially be used in hazardous waste clean up at DOE energy facilities that previously relied upon expensive decontamination processes.
The 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.
Genomes To Life Program
Our world is filled with microorganisms that have evolved on Earth over 3.8 billion years and, as suggested by their diversity and range of adaptation, have long ago solved many of the nation's energy and environmental problems (i.e., energy transformation and carbon sequestration). A deeper, genetically based understanding of these organisms, culminating in computational models of their function, can be used to predict and even modify their functions to address energy needs, biothreat reduction, and toxic waste cleanup. The Genomes to Life program is on the cutting edge of biology. The ASM strongly supports the Administration's funding of the program at $36.7 million for FY 2003, an increase of $15 million over FY 2002.
The Genomes to Life program and others are just beginning to demonstrate the potential applications of microorganisms for energy, medicine, agriculture, environmental, and national security needs. This research will potentially offer new biotechnology solutions to these challenges and those of tomorrow. Underlying the potential applications of biotechnology for clean energy, mitigating climate change, and environmental cleanup is the need for a solid understanding of the functions, behaviors and interactions of every biological part (the genes and proteins) of a microorganism. If we are to improve the productivity of forests, bioremediation agents, biomass crops and agricultural systems, it is imperative to understand how these biological machines work. This will require a staggering amount of expertise across the sciences, new computational capabilities, new tools, and new interdisciplinary approaches to genomics research.
The ASM applauds the bold vision of the Genomes to Life program 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.
Climate Change Research
The ASM is pleased to see the Administration's support of Climate Change Research continue in its FY 2003 budget. The ASM endorses the President's proposed $137 million budget, a 7% increase over FY 2002. The Society is also supportive of the proposed $13.9 million budget for the Ecological Processes section for FY 2003, a $1.5 million increase over FY 2002.
The Climate Change Research subprogram seeks to apply the latest scientific knowledge (i.e., genomic, new computational methods) 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 Bush in 1989 and codified by Congress in the Global Change Research Act of 1990 (P.L. 101-106). This program is vital if science is to advance its understanding of the radiation balance between the surface of the Earth and the uppermost portions of the atmosphere and how this will affect the planet's climate and ecosystems.
The Ecological Processes portion of the subprogram is focused on understanding and simulating the effects of climate and atmospheric changes on the biological structure and functioning of planetary ecosystems. Research will also identify potential feedbacks from changes in the climate and atmospheric composition. This research is critical if we are to better understand the changes occurring in our ecosystems from increasing levels of atmospheric pollutants.
The ASM urges Congress to support this important research within the Office of Science budget. The Climate Change Research subprogram is a key component in developing more accurate climate modeling and ecosystem data, and promises to yield new technologies to address future climate shifts.
Basic Energy Science
The Administration's requested funding for the Office of Basic Energy Sciences (BES) is $1.02 billion for FY 2003. This funding level is a $20 million increase over FY 2002. 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. Program initiatives include microbiological and plant sciences focused on harvesting and converting energy from sunlight into energy feedstock 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.
The MGP's research into bioremediative microorganisms' complements the research supported by the DOE's Natural and Accelerated Bioremediation Program (NABIR) and other DOE bioremediation research initiatives. The Administration's proposed budget for the NABIR program is $24.7 million, a $2.6 million increase over FY 2002. The ASM supports the Administration's request for bioremediation research. However, the ASM believes that greater benefits will be achieved if the NABIR program is increased to $30 million, which is more consistent with the original $40 million plan for the program.
Bioremediation scientists are searching for cost-effective technologies to improve current remediation methods to clean up DOE's contaminated sites. This research has the potential to lead to new discoveries into reliable methods of bioremediation of metals and radionuclides in soils and groundwater. The NABIR program supports the basic research that is needed to understand this technology to more reliably develop the practical applications for cost-effective cleanup of pollutants at DOE sites. The ASM strongly recommends that additional funding be allocated to balance the program elements and pollutants studied as originally envisioned when the NABIR Program was designed.
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.
The ASM strongly supports the basic science agenda across the scientific disciplines and encourages Congress to maintain its commitment to the Department of Energy research programs to maintain U.S. leadership in science and technology.