National Science Foundation - FY 2004 Testimony

The American Society for Microbiology (ASM), the largest single life science organization in the world, comprising more than 40,000 members, appreciates the opportunity to provide written testimony on the Fiscal Year (FY) 2004 appropriation 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 the NSF for FY 2004.

National Science Foundation

The ASM endorses the level of funding approved by Congress in the NSF Authorization Act of 2002 (P.L. 107-368) to provide $6.39 billion, a 20 percent increase, for the NSF in FY 2004.This would raise the NSF budget by $1.1 billion from its current $5.3 billion level of funding for FY 2003.The ASM strongly supports Congress's bipartisan commitment to strengthen scientific research and education.The NSF budget is one of the nation's most important investment opportunities because it funds research in new frontiers of scientific inquiry and contributes to creating a highly skilled, competitive workforce in science and engineering.Although NSF accounts for only 4 percent of federal R&D spending, it supports nearly 50 percent of the non-medical basic research at our colleges and universities.A 20 percent increase will fund additional excellent rated research projects in pursuit of important discoveries and innovations.In addition, increasing NSF's budget beyond the Administration's proposed $5.5 billion budget will allow the NSF to continue making increases in the size and duration of NSF grants, graduate student stipends and investments in priority areas, such as Biocomplexity in the Environment and Nanoscale Science and Engineering.Increases in these areas will ensure high productivity among researchers and will improve the attractiveness and viability of the science and engineering fields to future students.Achieving these goals requires public investment that reflects the importance of science and engineering to the social and economic foundation of the nation.

The NSF's mission is to promote and advance scientific, mathematical, and engineering research and education in the United States.It is a key agency for supporting research that uses genomic information in new and creative ways through interagency partnerships that advance all the sciences.The NSF has launched several grants 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).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.

Continued research concerned with the impact of microorganisms on the well being of humans, animals, plants and the environment is critical.The ASM supports NSF's continued focus on microbial biology and the diversity of microorganisms.Microorganisms 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, and cause disease.The NSF recognizes the important role microorganisms play in our well-being and funds programs that advance our understanding of the microbial world.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."

Biocomplexity in the Environment

The ASM supports the proposed $100 million budget for FY 2004 for Biocomplexity in the Environment (BE) research.BE is an integrative program that utilizes all of the NSF science directorates to address some of the worlds most pressing scientific and societal challenges, such as, climate change and the complicated question of long-term environmental security.This intradirectorate initiative seeks to better understand the complexity of interactions between local, regional and global ecosystems that is inextricably linked to human well being.Advances in molecular biology, ecology, the geosciences, mathematics and the computational sciences have made it feasible to begin to understand these 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 program's emphasis on microbial genomic sequencing as a major new tool in furthering our understanding of the microbial world.In 2004, BE will focus on a number of priorities that will enhance our fundamental understanding of microorganisms important in nature and to humans (e.g., Microbial Genome Sequencing (MGS) activity).The MGS activity will focus on microorganisms chosen for their fundamental biological interest through the peer-reviewed process and for their importance in agriculture and forestry, relevance to the safety and quality of the food and water supply, and as potential bioterrorism agents.The ASM is also pleased with the Tree of Life Project.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.Genome sequencing will provide the basis of efforts to better manage these organisms.The ASM is equally pleased to see joint efforts with NIH, USDA, NSF, USGS, USDA, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) continue in the Ecology of Infectious Disease activity.Research will focus on ecological determinants of disease transmission, possible health effects from environmental change, and improved tracking of outbreaks, which should be useful in following the West Nile virus.BE's research (Coupled Biogeochemical Cycles activity) in the biological, geochemical, geological, and physical processes is promoting new multidisciplinary approaches to traditional biological and geochemical science and should be continued.

ASM applauds NSF's continued leadership in expanding multidisciplinary research opportunities and urges Congress to fully support BE.

Nanoscale Science and Engineering

The NSF is the lead agency in the National Nanotechnology Initiative, which allows scientific disciplines an opportunity to focus information technology, biology, engineering, physics, chemistry, and material and computer sciences into a unified research effort to make discoveries in materials and manufacturing, medicine, environment and energy and national security.The ASM supports the Administration's proposed level of funding of $249 billion for this program.The Biological Directorate's (BIO) portion of the FY 2004 initiative is $5 million, which represents a $2 million increase from FY 2003.

The ASM supports the Biosystems at the Nanoscale program ($21 million).This program will study biologically based systems that have potential applications in biocompatible nanostructured materials, new devices for research in genomics, proteomics and cell biology, and nanoscale sensory systems.Nanoscale research could be particularly beneficial to understanding cellular communication and detection of environmentally important signals.

The NSF is a pioneer among federal agencies involved with nanotechnology research and the ASM supports additional interagency cooperation between the NSF and the Department of Energy.

National Ecological Observatory Network

The National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) is a continental-scale initiative composed of 10 distinct geographically distributed, networked observatories that will serve as a platform for integrated research across the sciences.NEON will allow for the first time, teams of scientists 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 innovative equipment and instrumentation that is so crucial to move 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 initiative in FY 2004.The ASM is encouraged by the Administration's support; however, the ASM recommends that the Subcommittee build upon the President's request and fund NEON at $20 million for FY 2004.This level of funding would allow the construction of one complete observatory and a more rapid realization of NEON.

The ASM recommends that Congress give high priority to increasing the NSF's funding as it considers its FY 2004 appropriation.Many of today's scientific achievements leading to the development of biotechnology, antifreeze proteins, improved crops and plant-based products, and DNA fingerprinting have their roots in basic research supported by the NSF.The many future 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.