Tuesday, 04 April 2017 10:15

National Science Foundation FY 2018 Appropriations Statement

The American Society for Microbiology (ASM) recommends that Congress approve a budget of $8 billion in FY 2018 for the National Science Foundation (NSF), about 4 percent above the FY 2016 enacted level. We ask that Congress continue its bipartisan support of the only federal Agency that funds all fields of science and engineering. To ensure US global leadership in science, Congress should sustain the agency’s congressionally mandated mission “to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; and to secure the national defense.” Investments in NSF have consistently benefited the public interest with scientific discoveries, helping elevate the United States as a global leader in R&D driven achievement.

NSF funding is vital to basic research and education programs throughout the country, stimulating discovery in both public and private sectors that clearly vitalizes our domestic economy and global competitiveness. Industries related to biotechnology, biomedicine, and computing are powerful examples of the importance of basic research across all disciplines. Emerging fields like nanotechnology and biomanufacturing owe a great deal to NSF funded researchers. Annual NSF appropriations finance one quarter of all federally funded research at U.S. colleges and universities in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

The NSF plays a unique role in furthering basic knowledge and training the Nation’s crucial R&D workforce. Over 90 percent of the NSF budget funds research, education and related activities primarily as competitive extramural grants or cooperative agreements, distributed to more than 1,800 colleges, universities and other institutions. To date, 223 Nobel Prize winners have benefited from NSF support. In FY 2017, NSF plans to support the activities of over 360,000 researchers, postdoctoral fellows, trainees, teachers and students. Of the more than 50,000 grant proposals expected, the agency anticipated awarding 12,000 grants across a range of disciplines. The FY 2018 budget must be able to sustain this level of NSF involvement in resolving problems like antibiotic resistant pathogens, emerging infectious diseases in food producing plants and animals, and threats to national security.

Analyses of the U.S. economy and its driving forces, as well as global markets based upon science and engineering, consistently emphasize the need for robust R&D expenditures and idea generating programs. Annual NSF budgets support nearly 70 percent of nonmedical basic biology research at U.S. academic institutions. Much of this nation’s rapidly developing bioeconomy is being fueled by NSF enabled innovations. NSF also provides nearly 90 percent of federal funding for university-based computer science research, as well as about one-third of federal funding for basic engineering research at colleges and universities. Other disciplines like chemistry and mathematics likewise benefit immensely from NSF support. Agency funding sustains 12 Science and Technology Centers (STCs) across the country, multidisciplinary incubators for innovation and training environments for scientists and engineers. The four STCs funded last September are dedicated to improving particle beam technology, creating tools to develop living “bioreactors,” building the basics of mechanobiology, and advancing real time functional imaging at the nanometer and atomic scales. Created in 2011, NSF’s I-Corps program trains researchers to assess the commercial potential of their discoveries, guiding the creation of more than 320 companies thus far. Since 2013, NSF’s small business innovation research (SBIR) program has helped launch nearly 1,300 high-tech startups and small businesses, with recently established companies in cutting edge areas like robotics, medical diagnostics, and instrumentation technologies.

NSF’s Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) supports an impressive diversity of training opportunities and studies on how humans and other animals, plants and microorganisms thrive and interact. Like other NSF directorates, BIO regularly partners in cross cutting programs with researchers in chemistry, engineering, mathematics, computer sciences and more. It also collaborates with other government and non-government entities on large-scale research projects; for example, the Ecology and Evolution of Infectious Diseases (EEID) program with the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In 2016, EEID funded nine rapid response grants to counter the spread of Zika virus infection. Basic biology underlies national initiatives like those against cancer and foodborne illnesses, as well as the federal strategy to understand and utilize microbiomes, the collective microorganisms in, on and around plants and animals.

The NSF directorates excel in identifying research areas that could transform public health, food security, or emergent economic sectors like biomanufacturing. One current example is the discovery by NSF funded researchers of the gene editing technique CRISPR-Cas9, now used widely in genetics research and expected to greatly influence medicine, agriculture, and biology based industries. NSF funded discoveries reported in the past year could similarly help reshape future science and technology, including a web based model revealing specific properties of the outer membranes of bacteria resistant to multiple drugs, a new tool in drug discovery; an “instantaneous fluorescence polarization” microscope that detects the position of individual molecules in living cells; patented “bioelectrodes” in bacterial biofilms that generate electricity thought scalable to industrial levels; a newly designed genetic switch to more effectively boost bacterial production of commercially valuable chemicals by turning off competing metabolic pathways; and an engineered bacterium that synthesizes highly conductive nanowires made of amino acids.

Each year, the possibilities for NSF funded innovation are vast and varied. The ASM appreciates this opportunity to submit a statement on behalf of strong NSF funding in FY 2018, and we offer our assistance to the Congress during the budget process.