Biological Sciences $562,220,000
The FY 2004 Request for the Biological Sciences Activity is $562.22 million, an increase of $36.60 million, or 7.0 percent, above the FY 2003 Request of $525.62 million.
The mission of the Biological Sciences Activity (BIO) is to support the vitality of the biological sciences at U.S. colleges and universities, especially in those areas where NSF has major responsibility. BIO supports research, infrastructure, and education.
BIO is the dominant federal supporter of basic research
in non-medical aspects of the biological sciences at academic institutions
- providing over 65 percent of the support for these activities. Because
most federal support for the life sciences - over 85 percent - goes to
health-related research funded by the National Institutes of Health, NSF's
contribution to the broader array of the biological sciences is significant
and strategically-focused - particularly in such areas as environmental
biology and plant sciences.
Fundamental research on understanding all aspects of "life" from the cell to whole ecosystems is supported within NSF - where the ability to integrate the range of biological sub-disciplines is unique. BIO support represents 64 percent of all federal funding for basic research in environmental biology and an estimated 55 percent of support in plant biology. Additionally, NSF plays a unique role in interdisciplinary biological research, since collaborations among disciplines represented by the various R&RA Activities are possible. Issues of national importance related to the environment, economy and human welfare require understanding how living organisms function and interact with the non-living systems they sustain and that sustain them. BIO supported research enhances this understanding.
Fundamental research about living organisms and their interactions with non-living systems is by nature complex and risky. Research outcomes are often surprising and unpredictable. These attributes call for the type of sustained support best provided by federal investments. NSF has taken the lead in supporting fundamental research across all levels of biological organization and especially in the areas noted above because increasing our fundamental understanding about life requires interdisciplinary approaches, which NSF is uniquely designed to provide.
Three aims guide BIO's activities:
BIO places a high priority on programs to develop a diverse, internationally competitive workforce of scientists, engineers and well-prepared citizens. These programs seek to achieve a participation in biology that reflects the diversity of the U.S. population. This emphasis ensures that the next generation of scientists will be adequately prepared for a scientific future that increasingly blurs borders between scientific disciplines, and that is increasingly dependent on technology and on the sharing and analysis of information from distributed resources. These efforts also aid in the development of a scientifically and technologically literate populace.
BIO People Investments
Support for People programs will increase by $540,000, or 1.1 percent, over the FY 2003 Request.
Ideas (+$28.51 million, for a total of $447.90 million)
The Biological Sciences Activity provides support for research to advance understanding of the underlying principles and mechanisms governing life. BIO's support for discovery spans all the biological disciplines. BIO-supported research effectively builds the knowledge base for resolution of societal concerns in areas as diverse as food, nutrition, agriculture, the environment, and education.
Disciplinary Research: Through all programs BIO will provide priority support to areas of emerging importance, such as integrative research focused on complex biological systems; research that integrates rapidly accumulating, massive amounts of disparate data into understanding biological processes; genome sequencing and the assembly of primary sequence databases especially for microbes and plants; and functional analyses, also known as "functional genomics".
Functional genomics has revolutionized biological research. This multidisciplinary area provides a new paradigm in biology by linking sequence data to the biological functions at the cellular, organismal, ecological, and evolutionary levels. Functional genomics tools allow researchers to conduct sequence comparisons among several different species to determine which genes are common to all life forms and which genes are unique to specific species. Identifying the function of genes has many practical applications, for example, in developing improved or novel crop plants of added value.
To capture the unprecedented opportunities offered by functional genomics, in FY 2001 BIO began the next phase of the Arabidopsis project, a major program in functional genomics, the "2010 Project." The goal is to determine the functions of the approximately 26,000 genes of the flowering plant, Arabidopsis by 2010.
Projects include applying the latest bioinformatic software tools to fill a publicly accessible web database cataloguing gene functions related to nitrogen metabolism. Because nitrogen is a key element in the biosphere and essential for the growth of all plants, this research will have a broad impact on the understanding of plant growth and reproduction.
In FY 2004, support for the "2010 Project" will be maintained at a total of $25.0 million. Scientists anticipate that the "2010 Project" will lead to construction of an integrated database of a "virtual plant" that will allow predictive approaches to the science of plant biology. The transfer of knowledge from research supported in this area to the private sector is almost instantaneous, as biotechnology companies seek to transform this information into better products for society, from food to pharmaceuticals to environmentally benign products. Continued support at this level will permit achievement of the goal of the project by the year 2010.
Modern biological science increasingly involves teams of scientists and students at all levels of education, and requires increasing access to supplies, equipment, and data, the latter often requiring the ability to access, analyze, and visualize remote databases. For these reasons, the cost of modern biological research is increasing sharply. BIO will continue to increase award size.
BIO Investments in Priority
The NSF priority areas of Biocomplexity in the Environment (BE), Information Technology Research (ITR), Nanoscale Science and Engineering (NSE), Mathematical Sciences, and Human and Social Dynamics (HSD) represent important areas of scientific inquiry.
Biocomplexity in the Environment (BE) research on the dynamics that occur within biological systems and between these systems and the physical environment will be increased by $4.0 million for a total of $39.86 million in FY 2004. This will increase support for the NSF-wide competition as well as for the Tree of Life Project. Two special competitions, the Ecology of Infectious Disease and Microbial Sequencing, will be continued.
Information Technology Research (ITR) in FY 2004 will increase by $700,000 to $7.50 million over the FY 2003 Request of $6.80 million for the NSF-wide ITR competition, and especially for database development and management and information networking. Examples of BIO relevant areas include: algorithms for designing, managing, and linking primary biological databases, development of new tools for microbial genomics, development of innovative database structures (both hardware and software) that support distributed storage of very dense files of genetic sequence and genomic data; development of relational authority files (databases) and development of real time information networks linking researchers worldwide engaged in Tree of Life research.
Nanoscale Science and Engineering (NSE) research, focused on studying the structure and regulation of macromolecular machines and macromolecular complexes that are capable of self-replication and self-assembly, will increase by $2.0 million to $4.98 million in FY 2004. The increase will specifically support research on nanoscale biosensors and information processors, which could provide new tools for understanding cellular communication and detection of environmentally important signals.
Mathematical Sciences support within BIO, as part of the NSF-wide priority area, will be increased by $1.30 million for a total of $2.21 million, to support interdisciplinary research involving mathematics and biology with a focus on mathematical and statistical challenges posed by large biological data sets, managing and modeling uncertainty, and modeling complex, non-linear systems.
Human and Social Dynamics (HSD) support within BIO, as part of the NSF-wide priority area, will be supported for a total of $500,000. One of HSD's long-term goals is to exploit the convergence of biology, engineering and information technology to advance understanding of human cognition. This emphasis, in line with the emergence of 21st Century Biology, will support research on behavior, cognition, development and neuroscience.
BIO-supported centers are another important component in its portfolio of activities. The BIO centers facilitate the development of new knowledge and techniques and include Science and Technology Centers (STCs), Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) sites, the Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (CEAS), and Plant Genome Virtual Centers. In FY 2004, BIO will continue support for all centers.
The Science and Technology Center for Behavioral Neuroscience at Emory University was established in FY 2000. Now in its third year, this Center will move to Georgia State University where it will continue to meet the scientific goals of understanding how neural processes regulate and are regulated by complex social behaviors across animal species. Collaborating institutions include Emory University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Morehouse School of Medicine, and Atlanta University Center. The Center provides a unique opportunity to integrate research with education for a broadly diverse set of students in the Atlanta metropolitan area.
The Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (CEAS), established in FY 1995 and recompeted in FY 1999, promotes integrative studies of complex ecological questions and serves as a locus for synthesis of large data sets. The goals of the Center are to advance the state of ecological knowledge through the search for universal patterns and principles and to organize and synthesize ecological information. Increases in support reflect the enhancement of IT capabilities.
In FY 2004, NSF will continue support for 24 Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) sites, which are representative of major ecosystems. Four sites are located in coastal ecosystems, two are in human-dominated, urban ecosystems, and the remaining 18 sites cover a broad range of ecosystems including the Arctic tundra of Alaska, the deserts of New Mexico, the rainforests of Puerto Rico, and the Dry Valleys of Antarctica. BIO provides full support for 16 of these sites, and partial support for 6 sites; OPP, GEO and SBE provide additional support.
Plant Genome Virtual Centers (centers without walls) are collaboratories where coordinated, multi-investigator teams pursue comprehensive plant genome research programs relevant to economically important plants or plant processes. Currently active centers range in size and scope, some with a focus on functional genomics and others with a focus on developing tools and resources for plant genomics studies for the scientific community. One award will develop a protein interaction database for rice protein kinases. Rice is a major food crop worldwide but productivity is seriously limited by environmental stresses such as drought. Kinases are part of the signaling pathways involved in plant response to stress. The outcomes of this project, which builds on the recently released rice genome sequence as well as prior projects studying kinases in the model plant Arabidopsis, should yield insights into how plants tolerate stress.
Tools (+$7.10 million, for a total of $59.14 million)
Support for Tools in BIO will increase by $7.1 million over the FY 2003 Request of $52.04 million for a total of $59.14 million. In FY 2004, BIO will increase support for research resources by $4.00 million for a total of $51.94 million to expand support for operations, maintenance and sustainability of mid-size scientific facilities and resources unique to biological research. The BIO Activity supports research resources for the biological sciences that include databases, multi-user instrumentation, development of instrumentation and new techniques, living stock centers, marine laboratories, and terrestrial field stations. Support for infrastructure ranging from databases and the informatics tools and techniques needed to manage them to instrumentation development are essential for all areas of research, including the priority areas.
BIO Investments in Tools
FY 2004 proposes the second year of support for the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON). Operational support for two NEON observatories is planned. In addition, strategic planning and coordination activities will continue. NEON IT infrastructure and systems integration will be designed and evaluated using the observatories established in FY 2003 and 2004. Construction funding for the NEON observatories is discussed in the Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction (MREFC) section.
Administration and Management provides for administrative activities necessary to enable NSF to achieve its strategic goals. This includes the cost of Intergovernmental Personnel Act appointments and contractors performing administrative functions.
BIO maximizes the quality of the R&D it supports through the use of a competitive, merit-based review process. In FY 2002, 98 percent of basic and applied research funds were allocated to projects that underwent merit review.
To ensure the highest quality in processing and recommending proposals for awards, BIO convenes Committees of Visitors, composed of qualified external evaluators, to review each program every three years. These experts assess the integrity and efficiency of the processes for proposal review and provide a retrospective assessment of the quality of results of NSF's investments.
The Directorate also receives advice from the Advisory Committee for Biological Sciences (BIOAC) on such issues as: the mission, programs, and goals that can best serve the scientific community; how BIO can promote quality graduate and undergraduate education in the biological sciences; and priority investment areas in biological research. The BIOAC meets twice a year and members represent a cross section of biology with representatives from many different sub-disciplines within the field; a cross section of institutions including small colleges, large universities, and industry representatives; broad geographic representation; and balanced representation of women and under-represented minorities.
Biological Sciences Research Highlights for FY 2002
· In a BIO supported study, researchers have discovered that signals serving as "mental pointers" are produced in the brains of zebra finches while they sing, and also while they dream about, or "rehearse," their song during sleep. This long-term, fundamental neural research is helping scientists understand brain mechanisms and, specifically, how the brain produces signals for motor control and learning. By studying how songbirds learn their songs, scientists hope to understand how humans learn to speak.
· Colorado's Green Lakes were studied under NSF's Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) program and it was found that atmospheric nitrogen from auto emissions and agriculture on the heavily populated Front Range of the Colorado Rockies was a possible cause of increased algal growth in high alpine lakes, which supply 40 percent of Boulder's water.
Plant diseases are a major threat to food security worldwide. Currently, there is no way to rapidly track the spread of any pathogen, naturally occurring or otherwise. Our current ability to counteract disease is limited and is mainly based on using potentially toxic chemicals that may breed resistant varieties. These age old practices while often effective in the short term are putting excessive strain on the environment and on the economy of some nations. An alternative strategy for safeguarding our well being and our food supply is to obtain a complete genetic blue print - the DNA sequence - of these noxious pathogens. Two examples of these efforts are:
· Researchers are studying the rice blast fungal pathogen, the most devastating disease of rice. The data will be available for the research community to help understand the molecular basis of plant disease as well as provide the foundation for designing novel environmentally sound strategies to more effectively manage this and other fungal diseases. The figure shows a cross section of the infectious stage of the fungus.
Awards to BIO Researchers
Duke scientist Eric Jarvis was chosen for the prestigious NSF Waterman Award in April 2002. A performing artist turned scientist, Eric overcame economic disadvantage as a child growing up in New York City's Harlem to become a top young researcher at Duke University--one of only 52 African American men out of more than 4,300 biologists who received Ph.D.s. in 1995. Jarvis was chosen for his individual achievements and leadership in studying the brain system of how birds vocalize. While conducting his groundbreaking research into how birds learn their songs, he discovered "how little scientists know about the language-fostering structures in our own brains."
President Bush named 15 individuals to receive the National Medal of Science in May 2002. BIO supported three of those named that have made lasting contributions to a burgeoning list of discoveries and technology breakthroughs in the biological sciences. Ann M. Graybiel of M.I.T. did pioneering work on the functional anatomy and physiology of the brain systems involved in disorders such as Parkinson's and Huntington's diseases and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Francisco J. Ayala of the University of California, Irvine revolutionized molecular biology in the study of the origins of species. Gene E. Likens of the Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, N.Y., documented for the first time in North America the environmental consequences of the phenomenon known as acid rain.
Other Performance Indicators
The tables below show the growth in the number
of people benefiting from BIO's funding, and trends in growth of award
size, duration and number.
Number of People Involved
in BIO Activities
BIO Funding Profile