Thursday, 13 April 2017 09:27

Department of Energy Office of Science FY 2018 Appropriations Statement

The American Society for Microbiology (ASM) recommends that Congress sustain robust funding for the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science’s exceptional research programs and unique user facilities. The DOE Office of Science sponsors research at more than 300 universities, operates 10 of DOE’s 17 national laboratories, and is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences. DOE innovations in computing, genomics, chemistry, nanoscience, measurement, imaging, and more have enormous benefit to the study of microorganisms as well as their practical uses. The ASM is deeply concerned that the Administration’s proposed FY 2018 budget would significantly weaken the Office of Science’s support for some of the nation’s most innovative and economically valuable discoveries in science and technology.

The Office of Science directly funds more than 20,000 researchers in chemistry, physics, biology, environmental science, materials science, mathematics and computer science at both DOE and non-DOE laboratories. More than 30,000 researchers from universities, government laboratories, and industry are able to utilize cutting edge equipment at user facilities overseen by the Office of Science. These facilities provide world class computing, photon and light sources, imaging and measuring instruments, genome sequencing, particle accelerators, high power lasers, nanoscience tools, and other capabilities that often are one of a kind.

The DOE Office of Science portfolio comprises six interdisciplinary programs that strengthen national security, the domestic economy, global competitiveness, and innovation for future progress, and includes: Advanced Scientific Computing Research, Basic Energy Sciences, Biological and Environmental Research, Fusion Energy Sciences, High Energy Physics, and Nuclear Physics. The following DOE laboratories operated by the Office of Science have generated significant advances benefiting the country: Ames Laboratory, Argonne National Laboratory, Brookhaven National Laboratory, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, and Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility.

The Office of Science’s Biological and Environmental Research (BER) program has successfully encouraged multidisciplinary approaches to genomics, microbiome studies, and the development of bioproducts driving the increasingly robust bioeconomy. BER managed facilities include the Joint Genome Institute (JGI), a world leader in genomics and high throughput DNA sequencing that also provides user access to non JGI researchers. The JGI facility currently sequences over four trillion genome base pairs each year, providing massive databases and tools to help achieve genomics’ vast industrial, biomedical, and other applications.

BER funding supports research studies ranging from the molecular level to community or field scale, utilizing disciplines that include microbiology, geochemistry, atmospheric and aquatic chemistry, and systems biology. Examples of BER supported basic research reported in the past year are:

  • High-field nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometers at BER’s Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory corroborated new computational methods to design synthetic peptides, a major advance in peptide-based drug discovery beyond the limited number of naturally occurring peptide structures.
  • BER funded university scientists created a new genetic code for Escherichia coli bacteria, demonstrating genome-wide engineering can yield microbial strains that produce new proteins and thus potentially valuable bioproducts with industrial uses.
  • A team of DOE and non-DOE researchers used high-resolution mass spectrometry and high performance computing to develop a new technique for studying microbial proteins as they are modified over time by their environment and how changes manifest at the microbial community level.

The Biological and Environmental Research program funds the Bioenergy Research Centers that seek to provide the basic science knowledge to advance the production of transportation fuels and chemicals from the nonedible or lignocellulosic portion of plant biomass. Over the past 9 years, knowledge produced from these centers formed the basis of over 500 invention disclosures, negotiated more than 100 licenses or options, and spawned the formation of more than a dozen startup companies. This remarkable rate of technology output illustrates the long term economic return on investment from taxpayer money that can be derived from mission relevant Office of Science programs.

Congress has traditionally supported the Office of Science’s open access user facilities, where researchers can expand the boundaries of their disciplines using resources otherwise inaccessible. DOE funding for investigators working in their own laboratories has similarly pushed forward multiple areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The Office of Science supports training for the nation’s next generations of scientists, engineers, and other tech workforces. This education effort serves not only university students but also K-12 students and educators.

We urge Congress to refuse drastic, shortsighted budget cuts for the Office of Science and instead support the creative thinking and research so important to our nation. The ASM appreciates this opportunity to submit a statement on behalf of DOE’s Office of Science and its contributions, and we offer our assistance to the Congress during the current budget process.