Department of Energy - FY 2005 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 Fiscal Year (FY) 2005 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.

DOE Office of Science

The scientific enterprise and the overall economy continue to benefit enormously from investments in the basic sciences made by the DOE Office of Science. The DOE Office of Science, the nation's primary supporter of the physical sciences, is also 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 partner in certain 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 goal of producing and conserving energy in environmentally responsible ways. Programs include basic research projects in microbiology, as well as, extensive development of biotechnology-based systems to produce alternative fuels and chemicals, to recover and improve the process for refining fossil fuels, to remediate environmental problems, and to reduce wastes and pollution.

The Administration's proposed budget for FY 2005 includes $3.4 billion for the Office of Science, representing a decrease of $68 million compared to FY 2004. The 2 percent cut proposed for FY 2005 for the Office of Science is a significant departure from the congressionally authorized level of $4 billion. The proposed budget for Biological and Environmental Research (BER) in FY 2005 is $502 million or $140 million below FY 2004. The proposed budget for Basic Energy Sciences (BES) in FY 2005 would provide $1.06 billion, representing an increase of $53 million, or 5.2%, over the prior year.

Biological and Environmental Research (BER) Programs

DOE is the lead federal agency supporting genomic sequencing of non-pathogenic microbes through its Genomics: GTL Program. This sequence information provides clues into how we can design biotechnological processes that will function in extreme conditions and potentially solve pressing national priorities, such as energy and environmental security, global warming, and energy production. The Administration has requested $67.5 million for FY 2005, compared to funding of $63.5 million for FY 2004. These requests include a $4 million increase for research on function and control of molecular-scale machines for energy and environmental applications, as well as $5 million for Project Engineering and Design of the first Genomics: GTL project, the Facility for Production and Characterization of Proteins and Molecular Tags.

In view of the valuable insights and tremendous practical potential from microbial genomic sequencing, the ASM recommends that Congress provide an additional $25 million for the GTL Program in FY 2005. ASM believes that these additional funds will be vital if DOE's role in this science frontier is to expand.

BER Genomics: GTL Program

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, making 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 keys to the biological capabilities of the organism and is the first step in developing strategies to more efficiently detect, use, or reengineer that microbe to address an assortment of national issues. The DOE Genomics: GTL genomic sequencing program has an important impact on nearly every other activity within BER. In addition to this program itself, a substantial portion of the DOE Joint Genome Institute’s (JGI) sequencing capacity continues to be devoted to the sequencing of microbial genomes as well as DNA in mixed genomes obtained from microbial communities dwelling within specialized ecological niches. As part of these efforts, DOE continues to complete DNA sequences of genomes in microbes with potential uses in energy, waste cleanup, and carbon sequestration.

About 40% of the JTI capacity is dedicated to serving direct DOE needs, primarily through the Genomics: GTL program, while the remaining 60% of this capacity serves as a state-of-the-art DNA sequencing facility for whose use scientists submit proposals that are subject to merit review. These sequencing projects will be conducted at no additional cost for the extramural scientific community. These efforts are expected to have a substantial impact on the BER Environmental Remediation Sciences program, reflecting the fact that much of this program is focusing on the use and role of microbes in environmental remediation. 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 solutions for sequestering carbon.

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 preponderance of microorganisms that cannot yet be grown in culture. 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 and higher levels, and thus urges Congress to fully support this exciting program.

Environmental Remediation

The overall goal of the DOE Environmental Management Science Program (EMSP), which was transferred from Environmental Management to the BER program, is to support basic research that improves the science base underpinning the clean up of DOE sites. Traditional clean up strategies may not work or be cost effective for many of the challenges that could prevent the successful closure of DOE sites. The EMSP, through its support of basic research, aims to develop and validate technical solutions to complex problems, providing innovative new technologies to overcome major obstacles that lead to future risk reduction and cost and time savings. It is the intent or the expectation of the EMSP that the basic research projects funded are directed toward specific issues and uncertainties at the DOE cleanup sites.

DOE bioremediation activities are centered on the Natural and Accelerated Bioremediation Research (NABIR) program, a basic research program focused on determining how and where bioremediation may be applicable as a reliable, efficient, and cost-effective approach for cleaning up or containing metals and radionuclides in contaminated subsurface environments. In the NABIR program, research advances will be made from molecular to field scales; on genes and proteins used in bioremediation and in overcoming physicochemical impediments to bacterial activity; in non-destructive, real-time measurement techniques; on species interaction and response of microbial ecology to contamination; and in understanding microbial processes for altering the chemical state of metallic and radionuclide contaminants. NABIR activities have a substantial involvement of academic scientists.

Additional EMSP research efforts will focus on contaminant fate and transport in the subsurface, nuclear waste chemistry and advanced treatment options, and novel characterization and sensor tools. In addition, studies on bioremediation of organic contaminants are conducted in EMSP, complementing EMSP projects will continue to be funded through a competitive peer review process. The most scientifically meritorious research proposals and applications will be funded based on availability of funds and programmatic relevance to ensure a complete and balanced research portfolio that addresses DOE needs. Research will be funded at universities, national laboratories, and at private research institutes and industries. This research will be conducted in collaboration with the Office of Environmental Management. Funding is reduced to increase research at and development of Field Research Centers through the NABIR program.

The Administration's proposed budget for Bioremediation research, including the NABIR program, is $105 million, a $2.8 million decrease compared to FY 2004. The ASM considers these DOE environmental remediation programs to be of considerable importance, and recommends that funding for FY 2005 be increased by an additional $5 million.

Climate Change Research

The ASM is pleased to see the Administration's support of Climate Change Research continue in its FY 2005 budget. The ASM endorses the President's proposed $143 million budget for FY 2005, which is about equivalent with levels in FY 2004. 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) for FY 2005 is $1.06 billion, representing an increase of $53 million over FY 2004. 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.

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. The budget request for the DOE Nanoscale Science program includes an increase of $8.7 million to a level of $211 million for FY 2005. 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. Such commitment will help maintain U.S. leadership in science and technology.