of the BIO Advisory Committee
April 6-7, 2000
THURSDAY, APRIL 6 - Morning
Welcome & Introduction of New Members, Dr. Mary Clutter
Dr. Mary Clutter, Assistant Director for the Biological Sciences
(BIO), welcomed the committee members and introduced Dr. Terry
Yates from the University of New Mexico at Albuquerque, the new
Division Director for Environmental Biology as well as Dr. Forest
Baskett, the chair of the Computer and Information Science and
Engineering (CISE) Advisory Committee. Dr. Baskett joined the meeting
to discuss initiative areas.
Remarks, Approval of the Minutes,
Dr. Gwen Jacobs, Chair
The minutes for the December 1999 meeting
were unanimously approved by the BIOAC. Dr. Jacobs thanked Dr.
Harris for chairing the previous meeting and welcomed Dr. Baskett
to participate and offer insights to the discussion from the perspective
of the CISE Advisory Committee.
Discussion with Dr. Rita Colwell,
Director of NSF
Dr. Colwell provided an update on the budget process
for Fall 2001, noting NSF’s request for a 17.3% budgetary
increase. The rest of the discussion focused on NSF’s current
activity and future role in education. As an agency, the NSF spends
close to $1 billion per year for fellowship programs; high school
outreach; centers for science, math, learning, and teaching; and
research supplements. With NSF’s strategic outcome goals
centering on ideas, tools, and people, the FY2001 budget places
an emphasis on people through funding education initiatives. An
example discussed was the Graduate Teaching Fellows in K-12 (GK-12),
which fosters a community effort between universities and K-12
schools. This serves to increase the scientific literacy of the
elementary through secondary school students and teachers while
training fellows to instruct in a team-oriented environment..
Dr. Colwell also discussed a potential program designed to provide
financial incentives and rewards for excellent teaching of introductory
science and science for non-majors courses. Such a program would
encourage recognition for creative and effective teaching so that
both quality education and research are viewed as meritorious activities
at the university level.
FY 2001 Budget and Status of Current Initiatives,
Dr. Mary Clutter
Dr. Clutter discussed the requested budget for
FY2001, which involves a 17.3% increase in funding for the Foundation.
The BIO Directorate would receive a 23.3% increase; half of the
money would go towards strengthening the core programs and the
other half would support areas of emerging importance. Dr. Ruzena
Bajcsy, the Assistant Director for CISE, spoke to the committee
about the growing interest of the CISE community in biological
problems such as protein folding and algorithm development. Collaboration
on such issues requires mutual respect for the science and research
motives at both ends of the spectrum. The committee also discussed
the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) program, which
would benefit from more cross-Directorate activity. A network
of research platforms that focuses on high-tech infrastructure
and the integration of several data sources, NEON provides an opportunity
for the CISE community to explore new database systems such as
XML (Extendable Mark-up Language).
Dr. Clutter briefly discussed
the trade-offs faced in the core programs as NSF tries to increase
its standard award size, duration, and success rates. The Directorate
must enhance selected areas that in turn stimulate the broader
GPRA Updates, Ms. Sonya Malinoff
- FY 1999 GPRA Performance
Report: The Directorate used the results from annual reports and
Committee of Visitor (COV) reports to draft a self assessment of
its performance in relation to the three categories of goals: results,
investment process (portfolio), and management. The results for
outcome goals were mostly successful with a few issues regarding
the support of high risk projects, adequate representation of diverse
groups, and the use of the new merit review criteria. The Directorate
achieved nearly all of its investment process and management goals.
- GPRA 2000 Performance Plan: Ms. Malinoff highlighted the changes
from the FY1999 plan. The Advisory Committee will be asked
to address BIO’s performance in areas of global change
and plant genome research as well as to review its progress in
urban communities. A continued goal is to increase the diversity
of the scientific workforce.
- NSF Strategic Plan, FY 2001-2005: The National Science
Board adopted a new strategic plan that more closely aligns the
GPRA strategic goals with the agency’s budget.
Discussion on Advisory Committee Chairs Meeting, Dr. Gwen Jacobs
at the Chairs Meeting focused on two issues:
- The appropriate roles
and activities of the Advisory Committee (AC) chairs
- How the Foundation should evaluate cross-directorate programs.
People agreed that the AC chairs serve as a conduit for communication
between the Directorate and a focused scientific community. An
additional role could be to serve as a COV for the review of cross-directorate
activities and initiatives. The Chairs could offer valuable perspectives
on how initiatives fit within both the Foundation’s strategic
plan and the broader goals of the scientific community.
THURSDAY, APRIL 6 - Afternoon Session
New Activities at the National Institute of General Medical
Sciences (NIGMS), Dr. Norka Ruiz Bravo
Dr. Bravo gave an overview
of the four new areas of activity for NIGMS:
- Complex Systems: The Complex System initiative arose out of
a need to support interdisciplinary research and training in
computational biology as well as an effort to attract quantitative
scientists to the issues in biomedical science.
- Pharmacogenetics:Pharmacogenetics program seeks to understand
the mechanisms underlying individual variation in responses
- Glue (collaborative projects):The Glue initiative promotes
both small- and large-scale collaborative projects that will
stimulate the development of interdisciplinary research on biological
processes. This initiative focuses on scientists currently funded
- Structural Genomics:Activities in Structural Genomics encourage
research and method development in the areas of protein structure
and function as well as protein family identity.
BIO Science Retreat, Introduction to Possible Thrusts for FY 2002,
Dr. James Edwards
Dr. Edwards discussed the process used to set the
priorities and the focus for future budget plans. The Directorate
identified three areas of opportunity for FY2002 that are compatible
with the four initiative areas and overall goals of NSF.
Systems Biology, Dr. Machi Dilworth, Dr. Christopher Greer, Dr.
Systems biology seeks to promote a dynamic, integrated
linkage between theory, model, observation, and experiment in biological
research and to enhance opportunities for converting data/information
The proposed activities fall within 5 categories, each of which
enhances one or more of NSF’s initiative areas:
- integration of theory, modeling, observation, and experimentation
- tools and resource development
- cross-disciplinary training
- collaborative centers for biologists, mathematicians, and information
These activities build onto the core programs by supporting investigator-initiated
research that combines theoretical and quantitative methods and,
in doing so, catalyze a change in the community’s approach
to scientific research.
Genome-enabled Science, Dr. Maryanna Henkart, Dr. Grace Wyngaard,
Dr. Terry Yates
Genome-enabled science seeks to study fundamental
questions in the life (and other) sciences using the tools, resources,
and concepts of genomics.
This encompasses three levels of activity: Sequencing and the
assembly of sequence databases, functional analyses (including
derived databases and research tools), Fundamental research.
Discussion with the BIOAC centered on developing a plan based
within a phylogenetic framework to guide research decisions in
genomic sequencing and/or functional analyses.
In this way, the community can move forward in a coordinated effort
that allows them to sequence organisms based on their evolutionary
and developmental significance as well as their position on the
tree of life. As a non mission-oriented agency, NSF has an integral
role to play in determining sequencing priorities based on scientific
merit and interest.
Science of Learning, Dr. Christopher Platt
Science of Learning
seeks to bring together several disciplines by encompassing the
biology of the brain, psychology of the mind, and education. Here,
NSF’s role serves to bridge the cultural
gap between these communities of scientists and educators, to foster
cross talk between disciplines, and to foster the incorporation
of information and computational sciences into the area of cognitive
The BIOAC discussed the need to encourage people in CISE and their
communities who study artificial learning to examine systems of
biological learning as well. They also stressed the importance
of NSF to define areas of cognitive neuroscience and learning where
the Foundation can play a unique and catalytic role in promoting
the field’s development.
BIOAC Working Groups, Status Reports
Genomics, Dr. Claire Fraser,
Dr. John Wooley
Dr. Wooley and Dr. Fraser were enthusiastic about
the report on genome-enabled science and encouraged to hear of
BIO’s proposed support for increased
sequencing efforts on phylogenetically important species. Their
discussion focused on three areas in genomics that could benefit
from organized workshops: marine microbes (to define infrastructure
necessary for genomic work), new models, and quantitative biology
(to develop new tools for genome-scale biology).
Education, Dr. Laura Hoopes, Dr. Marvalee Wake
Dr. Hoopes and
Dr. Wake discussed thirteen recommendations that involve issues
such as tracking more data on programmatic efforts and award recipient
activities, increasing funds for DDIG (Doctoral Dissertation Improvement
Grants), and increasing the involvement of K-12 teachers in NSF
programs. Conversation focused on the recommendation to decrease
the nation’s dependence on international scientists and engineers
in certain areas of science by limiting the eligibility of applicants
to US citizens. Some BIOAC members felt that this would encourage
the participation of underrepresented groups in the US while others
cautioned against an isolationist approach since much of the country’s
strength in science comes from the diversity of its players. The
committee praised the IGERT program for incorporating teaching,
teamwork, and professional development into the activities of the
award recipients. The discussion closed with Drs. Hoopes and Wake
emphasizing that the two main recommendations of the report were
(1) BIO develop a philosophy/mission statement about its role in
education and (2) interaction with other directorates, especially
EHR, be strengthened.
FRIDAY, APRIL 7 -
Dr. Ellen Goldberg and Dr. Larry Vanderhoef volunteered to serve
on the GPRA working group.
Biocomplexity FY 2000 Update, Dr. Joann Roskoski
competition required the integration of computational sciences
(through modeling, statistical analyses, etc.) with more traditional
forms of biology by having a model serve as the basis for the project
and by including a quantitative expert on the research team. The
Foundation received 160 incubation proposals and over 300 research
proposals that broke down into the following six categories or
levels: theory/math/computation, humans and the environment/ecosystem,
ecosystem - terrestrial, ecosystem - aquatic, organism/population/community,
and organ/cellular/molecular. Proposal review will take place in
6 panels, roughly separated according to the system of study. Committee
members discussed the need to ensure multidisciplinary review of
proposals, especially for those projects that integrate studies
both horizontally and vertically across scales.
BIOAC Working Group, Status Reports continued
in the Environment, Dr. James Collins, Dr. Leonard Krishtalka
BIOAC encouraged NSF to determine the goals or desired outcomes
of Biocomplexity and to establish a plan for evaluating its effectiveness
in the future. The outcome goals for Biocomplexity listed within
the NSF GPRA Strategic Plan FY2000-2005 provide a starting point
for evaluating the initiative.
Biocomplexity in the Environment, Dr. Margaret Leinen
Leinen addressed the Foundation’s efforts to
establish priorities and enhance its activities in the area of
environmental science and education. The NSF plans to increase
its entire environmental portfolio through greater funding in the
core programs and large-scale initiatives such as NEON.
The BIOAC discussed the need to collaborate with other federal
agencies when developing programs and to establish a MOU for biocomplexity
research across the government. They also addressed the need to
promote multidisciplinary education (through programs such as IGERT)
in an effort to prepare the community for the more integrated science
of the future.
General Discussion - BIO Thrusts FY 2002
Discussion focused on genome-enabled science, systems biology,
and the NEON program.
Genome-enabled science - The committee agreed with the urgency
with which the Foundation should establish priorities and a phylogenetically
relevant framework for sequencing organisms. Some suggested holding
workshops in which various communities could discuss and defend
their organisms of choice. Dr. Krishtalka recommended taking a
portfolio manger approach by sequencing a mixture of high risk/high
payoff, blue chip, high growth , etc. species while also considering
the species’ position in the tree of life. Tool development
that would enable the translation of sequence differences between
similar organisms would allow the community to work on a broader
group of organisms.
Systems biology - The activity area of knowledge-based bioinformatics
fits well within the Foundation’s Information Technology
initiative and provides an excellent opportunity for interaction
between biologists and information/computer scientists. The committee
stressed the importance of increased communication between these
groups in an effort to stimulate cross-disciplinary research. Dr.
Jacobs recognized the difficulty of retaining and capturing the
interests of computer scientists in issues of biological importance
since industry offers more lucrative incentives and rewards.
NEON - Both the CISE and BIO communities need to be involved in
planning the breadth of scientific issues, management strategies,
and the technology/infrastructural needs of the NEON sites. In
this way, each community will meet its research priorities while
benefiting a range of other disciplines. The committee agreed that
criteria for choosing the ten proposed sites should involve distinctive
features of the location, the range of questions that could be
asked, and consideration as to how the site (with its infrastructure)
could drive the field forward. Some members expressed concern about
potential overlap between the NEON and LTER (Long-term Ecological
Research) programs. Dr. Edwards explained that LTER sites are funded
by research grants that address specific questions; they are evaluated
according to their productivity, not on how they serve the community.
NEON sites, in contrast, will provide the infrastructure and tools
needed by the scientific community regardless of an investigator’s
specific research objectives.
FRIDAY, APRIL 7 - Afternoon Session
DOE Microbial Cell Project, Dr. Marvin Frazier
The long-term goals
of the Microbial Cell Project are to understand how the parts of
a cell work together; to identify and characterize genes, their
interactions, and protein-protein interactions; and to develop
computer models for predicting these interactions as well as the
responses of microbes to environmental conditions. DOE has placed
a large amount of resources into microbial research (~$70-77 million)
by funding national labs, large sequencing facilities, instrumentation
programs, fellowships for training computational scientists, and
projects that focus on mission-oriented microbes.
Dr. Frazier expressed DOE’s interest in expanding their
microbial activities by partnering with NSF. This would provide
a greater pool of money and build on the strengths of each agency
for the benefit of the microbial community. Future directions include
comparative genomics, diversity surveys, and functional biology.
BIOAC Working Group Follow-on Activities for FY 2002
focused on future activities related to the 21st Century Workforce
through the avenue of education. BIOAC members recognized the need
to centralize efforts for Biology education and suggested NSF’s
involvement in coordinating such a movement. The Education Subcommittee
plans to meet with EHR (Education and Human Resources Directorate)
to discuss ways of promoting more multidisciplinary education as
well as involving K-12 and community college teachers and students
in education programs. The committee also discussed the type of
role BIO should play in both formal and informal science education.
Plans for Fall Meeting
- The education subcommittee would like to
talk with EHR to facilitate the drafting policies or guiding
principals regarding the Directorate’s role in education.
- A representative from the Biocomplexity in the Environment
Subcommittee will participate on the Environment Advisory Committee
for the Foundation.
- Dr. Clutter invited those members who are scheduled to rotate
off the committee this spring to volunteer for another year.
Meeting Dates for the BIOAC
Fall 2000 - November 16-17, 2000
Spring 2001 - April 5-6 or April 26-27, 2001
The BIOAC engaged in a dynamic discussion regarding the public’s
fear of biotechnology and genetically modified organisms (GMO)
while emphasizing the importance of NSF’s role in increasing
people’s overall scientific literacy. Dr. Vanderhoef noted
that ultimately the public will decide the outcome of the GMO debate
and that the best way to win their favor is by supplying honest
information and demonstrating the extent to which they already
use and rely upon products from GMOs. Issues such as these point
to the strong need for both formal and informal science education
that reaches the public as well as across the scientific disciplines.
Hardcopy minutes approved by Gwen A. Jacobs, Chair
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