of the BIO Advisory Committee
December 2-3, 1999
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 2 - Morning
Welcome & Introduction of New Members, Dr. Mary Clutter
Dr. Mary Clutter, Assistant Director for the Biological Sciences
(BIO), welcomed the new members in attendance, Lynn Jelinsky, John
Wooley, and Larry Vanderhoef. She noted that Gwen Jacobs, Chair
of the BIOAC, was not able to attend the meeting; past Chair, W.
Franklin Harris, agreed to assume the position for the two-day
session. Dr. Peter Preuss from the EPA is sitting in for Norine
Noonan for the first day. Dr. Clutter announced staff changes within
the Directorate (Program Officers temporarily serving as Acting
DDs or DDDs); she noted that former Division Director for Integrative
Biology and Neuroscience (IBN), Bruce Umminger, has moved to the
Office of Integrative Activities (OIA) and that Grace Wyngaard
has assumed the position of IBN Division Director.
of the Minutes, and Report on Advisory Committee Chairs Meeting,
Dr. Frank Harris
The minutes of the Spring 1999 meeting were unanimously
approved by the BIOAC. Dr. Frank Harris gave an overview of the
Advisory Committee Chairs Meeting and reported on their discussion
about the changing directions of science. Dr. Rita Colwell, Director
of the National Science Foundation (NSF), discussed the agency's
need to 'think bigger' and to focus on a larger budget by moving
beyond the scope of individual investigators. New initiatives
such as Biocomplexity and Information Technology Research (ITR)
emphasize the importance of large projects and collaborations that
encourage crossfertilization between scientific disciplines. The
recently established NSB Task Force on the Environment exemplifies
these themes by examining the environment in a larger context through
the incorporation of several scientific and engineering fields.
Dr. Colwell hopes to reflect the mix of disciplines by establishing
an advisory committee on the environment composed of members
from other various committees.
Dr. Frank Harris expressed the need for NSF to link its new directions
in scientific research with the budget plan directly. The strategic
and budget plan for the agency need to be parallel in order to
emphasize both the benefits and monetary costs of these programs.
BIO GPRA Performance Evaluation, Dr. Burt Ensley
Dr. Burt Ensley reviewed several sections of the Draft AC Assessment
of Directorate Performance for GPRA FY 1999. Sources of information
for the report included Program and Division Annual Reports,
FY99 Committee of Visitor (COV) reports, and periodic announcements,
such as press releases, made by the BIO Directorate to the public.
The report evaluated the effectiveness of the Directorate in
reaching NSF's four outcome goals for the fiscal year.
GPRA GOAL 1: Discoveries at and across the frontiers of science
and engineering that result from NSF investments. The Directorate
successfully achieved this goal by supporting a balance of innovative,
risky and interdisciplinary research.
GPRA GOAL 2: Connections between discoveries and their use in
service to society. Successful. NSF leads multiagency programs
in areas such as plant genomics, plant disease resistance, and
genomic structure. The Directorate also participates in the U.S.
Global Change Program, which contributes directly to the creation
of policy options. The COVs cited several other examples and noted
the effectiveness of NSF press releases and public announcements
in quickly educating the public about recent scientific advances.
GPRA GOAL 3: A diverse, globally oriented workforce of scientists
and engineers resulting from NSF investment. In general, Dr. Ensley
found the Directorate to be successful in its efforts to diversify
the workforce, especially in areas where it has the most influence
(i.e. the gender and ethnic composition of ad hoc reviewers, panelists,
agency staff, etc.). Programs such as the BIO Minority Postdoctoral
Research Fellowships and Undergraduate Mentoring in Environmental
Biology also serve to engage a wider diversity of people in science.
Internet resources provide an example of general outreach to the
GPRA GOAL 4: Improved achievement in mathematics and science skills
needed by all Americans. The Directorate successfully reached this
goal through its support of projects that link innovative research
activities with K-12 education and those that use the Internet
to disseminate information to the scientific community and general
The Directorate's use of merit review criteria was considered
to be successful despite the apparent reluctance of the research
community to address criterion 2. COVs repeatedly praised the efforts
of Program Officers in upholding the importance of criterion 2
and in assessing it during funding decisions. A suggestion was
made to modify FastLane so that reviewer comments may not be submitted
until both criteria are addressed.
BIO FY99 Committee of Visitors
Division of Biological Infrastructure, Training and Research Resources
Clusters, Dr. Burt Ensley.
Dr. Ensley reviewed the 11 recommendations
made by the COV to the Division; most of the discussion focused
on the following two areas:
- The need to establish a standard
guideline as to when a Materials Transfer Agreement (MTA)
may be appropriate, how it might be used, and what format it
might take. The COV recognized that this issue extends beyond
DBI programs but placed high importance on creating a model that
could be used by researchers and their institutions.
- The need to provide long-term support for community databases
in all areas of biology including genomics as well as biodiversity/biocomplexity
data. This is especially important as science moves from individual
investigator research to large-scale collaborations where sharing
and having access to data is imperative.
Division of Environmental Biology, Dr. James Collins.
the COV stressed the positive performance of the Division through
its continued funding of leading science, efforts to increase minority
participation, and emphasis on training graduate students. They
made 14 recommendations, two of which were discussed in greater
- The need for increased funding in DEB. This stems from
DEB's leadership in activities at the forefront of highly
complex and interdisciplinary research. Funding levels have remained
flat and in order to fund grand research, the Division needs
a grand budget.
- The COV encourages NSF and the Division to continue its efforts
in supporting special competitions such as IGERT and NEON.
They also noted that in order to reach the level of science addressed
in special competitions it is essential to continue substantial
levels of funding in the core programs.
Division of Integrative Biology and Neuroscience, Neuroscience
Cluster, Dr. Gwen Jacobs.
Due to Dr. Jacobs' absence, the COV report
was not discussed.
Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences, Genetics Cluster
and Biochemistry of Gene Expression (BGE), Dr. Claire Fraser.
general, the COV was impressed with the staff and the science funded
by the programs. Dr. Fraser discussed 2 of the 5 recommendations
in more detail.
- In comparison to the Microbial and Eukaryotic Genetics
programs, the COV found the level of science funded in BGE
to be a bit lower. They questioned the overlap of this program
with areas supported by NIH, suggesting that BGE may provide
seed money for pilot projects that later move to NIH for higher
levels of support. They also suggested that the lack of a permanent
home (BGE started in the Genetics Cluster and now resides in
Biomolecular Processes) could contribute to the lower number
of proposals in the program. Dr. Fraser acknowledged the Division's
response that movement between clusters allows for flexibility
in such a rapidly advancing field.
- The COV recommended that future COVs assist in strategic planning
for the Division and look towards future directions of NSF.
The committee approved all COV reports as submitted.
NSF Strategic Plan, FY 2000-2005, Dr. James Edwards
NSF's new strategic
plan focuses on three outcome goals: 1) investing in ideas that
broaden the fundamental science and engineering knowledge base,
2) investing in people who contribute to a diverse and internationally
competitive scientific workforce, and 3) investing in tools that
provide widely accessible, state-of-the-art infrastructure to scientific
disciplines. Dr. Edwards outlined the four elements of NSF's investment
strategy that will be used to reach these goals. They incorporate
enabling competitive investigator-initiated research, identifying
unmet opportunities (e.g., nanoscale science and the integration
of disciplines with mathematics), identifying transcendent areas
of research across broad frontiers (e.g., biocomplexity, ITR),
and enhancing the diversity of participation within NSF programs.
Members of the BIOAC approved the goals but encouraged NSF to link
its strategic plan directly with the budget. It would not only
be helpful to attach a cost to each goal but to discuss the consequences
of NOT investing in these important areas.
BIO/NSF FY 2000 Budget, Dr. Mary Clutter
Dr. Clutter gave an overview
of the budget process and highlighted NSF's increase of 6.6% for
the FY 2000 budget (approximately $240 million). She applauded
Rita Colwell's dedicated efforts to achieve this increase. The
majority of the new funds are dedicated to the special initiatives:
$90 million for Information Technology Research (ITR), $50 million
for Biocomplexity (phase 2), $10 million for the Plant Genome program,
and $36 million for Terascale Computing systems. The Education
and Human Resources (EHR) Division also received an increase of
$34.6 million. Dr. Clutter noted that the Educating for the Future
initiative will receive H-1B money from visas to support international
students and scientists. Universities may apply for the money through
training fellowships (for technicians, engineers, mathematicians,
Dr. Clutter also appointed Dr. John Wooley to chair a genomics
subcommittee that will work with Dr. Henkart, Division Director
for Molecular and Cellular Biosciences, to address NSF's long-term
involvement in genomics.
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 2 - Afternoon Session
Discussion with Dr. Rita Colwell, Director of NSF
focused on the need for broader communication and education regarding
issues of scientific research. Historically, scientists and engineers
have not made adequate efforts to explain their work or its purpose
to others. The current public outcry regarding biotechnology and
genetic engineering reflects on this lack of understanding. Not
only do scientists need greater communication with the general
public but also with their congressional representatives. A stronger
voice from the scientific community will come when fields and disciplines
combine to express the importance of investing in basic research.
BIO Update/Current Issues
Biocomplexity, Dr. Joann Roskoski.
Dr. Roskoski gave an overview of the Biocomplexity phase I competition
(FY 1999), which focused on the functional interrelationships
between microorganisms and their environment. Phase II is open
to research on all organisms and aims to understand and model
complexity among biological, physical, and social systems. The
program plans to fund two types of activities, research projects
($45 million) and incubation activities ($5 million). The incubation
activities will allow researchers to develop collaborations that
could lead to larger projects in the future.
Information Technology Research, Dr. Michael Lesk
Dr. Lesk gave an overview of the ITR initiative, which incorporates
research from many disciplines such as molecular biology, ecology,
informatics, database management, computer science, and engineering.
The program received 1400 letters of intent and expects to fund
about 30 projects. He discussed the difficulty faced by universities
in retaining both students and faculty who receive competitive
offers from industry. Dr. Lesk also mentioned the need to diversify
the field and to continue active recruitment of minorities and
Plant Genome Research Program, Dr. Jane Silverthorne
discussed the Second Annual Awardee meeting that involved close
to 90 PIs and bioinformaticists. During a focus group session,
the attendees identified three key areas that need to be addressed:
1) the formation of a Plant Genome web site to facilitate discussion
and access to data, 2) the development of microarray and data standards
so that experiments may be compared, 3) the incorporation of training
components and a diverse workforce into these large projects. The
third year of the plant genome competition focuses on functional
genomics with an emphasis on the utilization of tools developed
as a result of prior funding. A total of 87 letters of intent have
been received. BIOAC members stressed the importance of requiring
PIs to develop strong management plans for these large-scale projects.
Task Force on the Environment Status Report, Dr. Mary Clutter
The National Science Board (NSB) established the task force last
year with the charge to review the scope of NSF activities in
the environment and to develop guidelines for NSF policy that
is consistent with the National Science and Technology Council's
(NSTC) strategy and the activities of other agencies. The task
force surveyed over 250 reports issued within the past 10 years
and identified 4 major needs: 1) to increase cross-disciplinary/interdisciplinary
research, 2) to recognize the inherent complexity of environmental
systems, 3) to consider questions at the appropriate scales,
and 4) to improve our predictive capabilities. They made two
keystone recommendations: 1) NSF should invest $1 billion in
the environment over the next 5 years and 2) NSF should rethink
its organization within the Foundation for coordinating these
activities. Dr. Colwell has appointed Margaret Leinen (Assistant
Director of GEO) to oversee NSF's activities related to the environment.
Report on Postdoctoral Fellowships, Dr. Carter Kimsey
The BIO Minority Postdoctoral program began in FY 1990 and
has since supported 115 fellows. The program seeks to increase
the number of underrepresented minorities in faculty positions
who are eligible for NSF grants. BIOAC members commented on the
need to increase the pool of minority applicants as well as the
award size for start-up grants.
- Biological Informatics: Seeks to support people interested
in problems that bring the tools of computer science and mathematics
together to solve biological questions. Last year the program
funded 18 projects; it expects to fund about 20/year.
- Microbial Biology: The Microbial Biology Postdoctoral program
started in FY 2000. It received 42 applications and expects
to fund about 20 projects. The small number of applicants reflects
the need to stimulate research in this area.
BIOAC members also discussed the need to encourage U.S. scientists
to spend some time studying abroad. Few postdoctoral fellows take
the opportunity to work in another country; perhaps it would be
better to encourage graduate students or young faculty members
to study/work in a foreign lab.
BIOAC Education Working Group, Dr. Marvalee Wake and Dr. Laura
Dr. Wake and Dr. Hoopes reviewed the goals of the working group
and its efforts to track education-related activities within standard
grants and special programs. Discussion included the following
- To what extent should NSF be involved in curriculum development
or the promotion of educational diversity? NSF has a strong
role to play in education but also recognizes the inherent tension
faced by scientists between research and education. In what
ways could NSF promote and reward the teaching activities of
- BIOAC members identified the need to reexamine and define the
CAREER program. Emphasis should be placed on demonstrating
a clear integration of research and education instead of requiring
exceptionally innovative educational components.
- NSF and the community must address the changing needs in education
as scientific research moves from single-investigator projects
to large-scale collaborative endeavors.
Prior to adjournment for the day, the committee reviewed and approved
the AC GPRA Report for FY 1999.
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 3 -
Dr. George Jones from Emory University and Norine Noonan from
the EPA joined the meeting today.
NEON - National Ecological Observatory Network, Dr. Scott Collins
Dr. Collins from the Division of Environmental Biology (DEB) introduced
the NEON program, which BIO is developing for possible inclusion
in the FY 2001 budget request. NEON seeks to establish a national
network of observatories that provide state-of-the-art infrastructure
to support interdisciplinary and integrated research (from ecological
fieldwork to genomics). Topics of discussion included:
- The necessity
for interagency cooperation in this endeavor to avoid duplication
of efforts and to maximize the use of available resources.
- NSF must clarify how NEON differs from the existing Long-Term
Ecological Research (LTER) Program (much broader, seeks cross-disciplinary
activity with engineering, geology/earth science, computer
- The NEON program should require proposals to include extensive
and carefully organized personnel, scientific, and data management
plans for the observatories.
Genomics, Dr. Maryanna Henkart
Dr. Henkart, Division Director for Molecular and Cellular Biosciences
(MCB), discussed the need to develop a long-range plan for
NSF's role in genomics research. Several workshops, an Interagency
Report on Microbial Genomics, and an Interagency Genomics working
group have identified gaps in areas of genomics. Some of the
gaps and/or needs include developing techniques for culturing
novel microbes, establishing NSF's role in selecting or prioritizing
potential non-model organisms for sequencing, encouraging the
vertical integration of genomics into biology through the training
of students, and providing support for infrastructure and database
Human Resources: Report on BIOAC Workshop, "Access by Minority
Investigators to NSF Extramural Support," November 6, 1999,
Atlanta, Georgia, Dr. George Jones
Dr. Jones gave an overview of
the suggestions and recommendations made by the participants
during the workshop. Discussion focused on the following topics:
- The need to facilitate connections between junior and senior
investigators. A suggestion was made to establish a website (with
NSF support) containing a list of investigators willing to take
on the role of a mentor.
- Several participants expressed concern about pedigree discrimination.
Dr. Jones emphasized the PI's responsibility to convince reviewers
of her/his ability to conduct quality science but said that
assumptions on productivity based on an individual's home institution
or alma mater thwart these efforts. Including more minorities
in the panel and ad hoc review processes may help to alleviate
some of the discriminatory problems.
- Participants discussed the need for minorities to work together
and suggested establishing a national organization for African
American biologists. Eventually the activities and outcomes
of a focused effort could be extended to include other ethnic
2010 Project, Dr. Machi Dilworth
Dr. Dilworth, Division Director for the Division of Biological
Infrastructure (DBI), discussed the goals of the proposed 2010
Project, which developed as a logical extension of the coordinated
Arabidopsis projects. By the end of 2000, the Arabidopsis genome
will be sequenced completely. Currently, only 10% of the sequenced
genes have been assigned (and verified experimentally) to particular
functions. This project seeks to assign functions to the 20-25,000
genes of Arabidopsis by the year 2010. Dr. Krishtalka mentioned
the need to vertically integrate the growing information on
genomics with the ecological and evolutionary aspects of
Collaboratories/Networking Activities, Dr. Mark Courtney
Dr. Courtney discussed the increasing trend for science to be conducted
through multi-investigator efforts that address broad conceptual
questions. BIO has become interested in facilitating collaborations
and networks of exchange by providing a mechanism to bring researchers
together across scientific disciplines. In FY99, the Population
Biology program tested the idea of a collaboratory by inviting
a group of individuals to examine the population aspects of invasive
species. Collaboratories differ from workshops in that they are
more targeted and directed towards the future outcomes of their
Nanotechnology, Dr. Tom Quarles
Dr. Quarles from the Division of Biological Infrastructure (DBI)
reported on BIO's involvement in the area of nanotechnology.
Overall, the Directorate's investment has been small (~ $1 million/yr)
relative to the amount spent by the Foundation. In FY99, NSF
spent about $85 million and it plans to spend close to $97 million
in 2000. The BIOAC members viewed nanotechnology as an area with
high potential that encourages collaborativ
Portfolio Balance, Dr. James Edwards
The majority of the discussion focused on the balance between funding
special competitions and core programs within NSF. As the number
and size of special competitions/initiatives increase, NSF will
need to reexamine its staffing situation and workload distribution.
One possibility would be to switch the core programs to single,
annual competitions and to run the core programs and special
competitions at different times during the year. Other options
include hiring more staff or contractors to compensate for the
rise in proposals, but this would require additional financial
resources. The implementation of electronic proposal receipt
and processing (through FastLane) may lessen the overall increase
Working Group Reports
Dr. Ensley reported on the GPRA Working Group's suggestions for
future GPRA assessments. Overall the group thought that preparing
the AC GPRA Assessment Report was a worthwhile experience but
one that required serious commitment of time and attention. The
following suggestions were offered: (1) following the COV model,
maintain as much independence as possible, (2) add a not-for-profit
representative to the BIOAC, (3) start the process earlier, and
(4) use/review program annual reports of a comparable timeframe
to the COV reports (rather than just the most recent program
annual reports). The group believed the exercise could be designed
to provide more useful information to the Directorate and Foundation.
Drs. Marvalee Wake and Laura Hoopes reported on the group discussion.
There was much work on refining the Working Group's charge
and identifying the BIO program activities to be included in their
review. Also a lot of discussion revolved around the kinds
of data needed and available. The group expects to receive statistical
data from BIO in about 6 weeks to start their review and will
report at the next AC meeting.
Genomics, Dr. John Wooley and Dr. Claire Fraser, co-Chairs
Dr. Wooley and Dr. Fraser summarized the working group's discussion
regarding long-range plans for NSF's role in genomics. Three
areas of interest involved developing a list of higher organisms
to be sequenced, actively facilitating the establishment of infrastructure
and databases that the entire scientific community may access,
and providing training opportunities for students as well as
faculty. The group noted that ideas related to genomic complexity
tie in with NSF's 5-year strategic plan and with several Foundation-wide
initiatives such as Nanotechnology and Information Technology
Biocomplexity in the Environment, Dr. Leonard Krishtalka and Dr.
James Collins, co-Chairs
The working group developed a charge that involves advising BIO
on the evolution/trends of biocomplexity research, identifying
leading areas of research, and encouraging a focus on information
management and data compatibility.
FY 2000 BIO Committee of Visitors Reports
- Division of Biological
Infrastructure, March 28-30, 2000: Dr. Ralph Quatrano
- Division of Environmental Biology, Systematic & Population
Biology Cluster, Week of August 14 or August 21, 2000: Dr.
- Division of Integrative Biology, Developmental Mechanisms Cluster,
July 17-19, 2000: Dr. James Collins
- Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences, Biomolecular
Structure and Function Cluster and Biomolecular Processes Cluster,
July 10-12, 2000: Dr. Lynn Jelinski
Meeting Dates for the BIOAC
Spring - April 6-7, 2000
Fall - undecided
The meeting adjourned at 1:45 p.m.
Hardcopy minutes approved by Gwen A. Jacobs, Chair
Back to Meeting Agendas and Minutes