biological Sciences $408,620,000
The FY 2000 Budget Request for the Biological Sciences Activity (BIO) is $408.62 million, an increase of $17.76 million, or 4.5 percent, over the FY 1999 Current Plan of $390.86 million.
(Millions of Dollars)
Totals may not add due to rounding.
The Biological Sciences Activity provides support for research to advance understanding of the underlying principles and mechanisms governing life. Research ranges from the study of the structure and dynamics of biological molecules, such as proteins and nucleic acids, through cells, organs and organisms, to studies of populations and ecosystems. It encompasses processes that are internal to the organism as well as those that are external, and includes temporal frameworks ranging from measurements in real time through individual life spans, to the full scope of evolutionary time.
The highest priority within the BIO Activity is to support the vitality of the biological sciences at U.S. colleges and universities, especially in those areas where NSF has major responsibility. The Foundation is the nation's principal supporter of fundamental academic research on plant biology, environmental biology, and biodiversity.
Research on circadian rhythms supported by the Biological Sciences at NSF was recently cited by Science magazine as one of the two most important scientific advances in 1998. NSF has funded much of the recent research work on circadian rhythms, the built-in mechanism organisms use to keep track of the 24-hour cycle between night and day. This includes a newly discovered gene in the fruit fly Drosophila that regulates the molecular cycles underlying circadian rhythms. Researchers affiliated with the NSF-supported Center for Biological Timing led by the University of Virginia performed this work. Another team of biologists at Vanderbilt and Texas A&M Universities identified three genes essential to circadian rhythms in cyanobacteria. These are the simplest organisms known to have such "internal clocks" that react to night and day. These discoveries will potentially enable manipulation of the biological clock to alleviate problems including jet lag, shift work, and winter depression.
Science also listed genomics amongst the top accomplishments for 1998, the year they say that “genomics took off”. BIO’s role in plant genomics has been significant. Within BIO, the Plant Genome Research Subactivity (PGR) was established in FY 1998. PGR supports research that will advance understanding of the structure, organization and function of plant genomes, and builds upon an existing base of genome research supported throughout the BIO Activity. Research supported by PGR is accelerating utilization of new knowledge and innovative technologies to achieve a more complete understanding of basic biological processes in plants, with emphasis on economically significant species such as corn.
More than 80 percent of BIO funding is directed toward investigator-initiated, fundamental research, predominantly in colleges and universities, across the United States. Emphasis is placed on support for studies that enrich the fundamental knowledge base, for projects integrating research and education, and for high risk/high potential research. BIO also places a high priority on support for new investigators beginning their scientific careers; approximately one-third of all new competitive research awards made by BIO are to new investigators. BIO plays a major role in support of research resources for the biological sciences including multi-user instrumentation, living stock centers, genome sequencing, systematics collections, biological field stations, and computerized databases.
In FY 2000, the BIO Activity will increase funding by a total of $17.76 million. Much of the increase is directed toward enhancing support for research and education efforts related to three broad Foundation-wide efforts: Biocomplexity in the Environment, Information Technologies, and Educating for the Future. In addition, BIO will increase support for Plant Genome Research, an area of emerging importance with connections to IT as it benefits significantly from the technological breakthroughs coming out of that area.
Biocomplexity in the Environment (BE): includes a set of increasingly coordinated activities in biology, environmental science, engineering and education. BIO will provide $124.33 million for BE. This is an increase of $7.43 million over the FY 1999 level of $116.90 million, for activities formerly known as Life and Earth’s Environment. Highlights include:
· Biodiversity and Ecosystems Dynamics (BED): Funding of $105.63 million, including an increment of $4.90 million will:
· stimulate new approaches to understanding biocomplexity and its role in ecosystem dynamics, incorporating contributions from a range of disciplines;
· accelerate a paradigm shift in ecosystem science making full use of state-of-the-art technologies; and
· focus on integrated ecosystem science, information integration and transfer, and technological innovations, to enhance the scientific information base needed for effective stewardship of the nation’s natural resources.
These efforts build upon ongoing support for:
· Environmental observatories—projects to characterize the microorganisms from a series of sites. This research will be carried out at a network of biological platforms, such as Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) sites, biological field stations, and marine laboratories;
· Integrated research challenges—continuation of a competition that focuses on complex environmental questions requiring a multi-disciplinary, multi-scale approach; and
· Life in Extreme Environments (LexEn)—projects that focus on the relationships between organisms, especially microbes, and extreme environments.
· Environment and the Human Dimension (EHD): An increment of $2.53 million for a total of $13.90 million will support a new postdoctoral program in microbial biology and other education and research resource related activities. Continued support will be provided for studies of human-dominated ecosystems where long-term benchmark records of critical ecological processes will be developed; this will include continuing study of urban communities as ecological systems, such as Urban LTERs.
· Global and Environmental Change (GEC): A total of $4.80 million in FY 2000 will maintain support for research on the responses of vegetation to and the impacts of vegetation on hydrologic and energy cycles, at scales from individual plant species to ecosystems.
In a related effort, NSF will fund a $50.0 million targeted, special effort in Biocomplexity. See Integrative Activities for further information on this effort.
Information Technologies (IT): In FY 2000, BIO will provide $134.62 million to support information based activities. This is an increase of $11.88 million over the FY 1999 level of $122.74 million for activities formerly known as Knowledge and Distributed Intelligence, which includes Plant Genome Research. Highlights include:
· Expanded support for networking, data manipulation, algorithm development, simulation and modeling, and visualization;
· Increased support for integrating data and developing models of complex systems across multiple scales; developing protocols to foster the interoperability of databases; using interactive datasets for real-time simulation and control of experiments; and mining databases to gain a better understanding of the function of genes; and
· Addressing information technology workforce needs through education and training programs. BIO will continue the postdoctoral program in biological informatics.
Educating for the Future (EFF): BIO supports a range of programs that encourage innovative approaches to meeting the challenge of educating students for the 21st century. BIO will provide a total of $51.39 million to support programs that foster the integration of research and education and train future scientists in a multidisciplinary environment. This is an increase of $2.80 million over the FY 1999 level of $48.59 million. This includes increases in Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU), Integrative Graduate Education and Research Training (IGERT), and Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) programs.
Plant Genome Research (PGR): BIO will increase support for Plant Genome Research, an area of emerging importance with connections to IT and BE. In FY 2000, BIO will provide a $5.0 million increase, for a total of $55.0 million, for plant genome research to:
· Provide enhanced support within the PGR program for research on structural and functional genomics, and for strengthening the research infrastructure necessary for robust plant genomics research. As the era of genome sequencing matures, the advent of “functional genomics” is at hand. Functional genomics relates the expression and regulation of genes and the proteins they encode on a genomic scale to the functioning of whole organisms;
· Facilitate analysis of genes of environmental value, such as those that confer resistance to diseases or allow plants to live on marginal soils; and
· Develop and improve plant genomics databases and develop new algorithms and other tools for searching these databases.
Key Program Functions
BIO supports its ongoing and new activities through the following key program functions:
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1 Includes only costs charged to the R&RA Appropriation.
Research Project Support
Research support spans all the biological disciplines represented in the BIO Subactivities. Modern biological science, often involving teams of scientists and students at all levels of education, requires 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 doing modern biological research is increasing and FY 2000 will require an enhancement in award size to fully enable the research. An average new research award within the BIO Activity in FY 2000 will total $360,600 over three years of support, a 6 percent increase over FY 1999. In FY 2000, BIO will continue its efforts to address Foundation-wide concerns about grant sizes by increasing the average size and duration of the awards and providing more support for researchers. In accord with the Foundation's FY 2000 Performance Plan, BIO will continue to provide increased attention to the percentage of competitive research grants going to new investigators. These efforts will contribute to increasing the efficiency of the Foundation's merit review process and achieve greater cost-effectiveness for both NSF and the university community.
The BIO Activity also supports research resources for the biological sciences. These include support for living stock centers, marine laboratories and terrestrial field stations, databases, multi-user instrumentation, and development of instrumentation and new techniques.
Specific NSF-wide research programs enable the development of human resources in BIO. Examples include: the Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER); Research in Undergraduate Institutions (RUI); and Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) site awards and supplements to existing research projects.
BIO-supported centers include Science and Technology Centers (STCs), Long Term Ecological Research sites, the Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, and Plant Genome Centers.
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1 The reduction of support reflects the planned phase-out of the first class of STCs in FY 1999, as well as
planned reductions in the second class of STCs.
STCs support researchers and students at all levels from undergraduate to postdoctoral. Collaborative arrangements with industry are strongly pursued by all STCs. Two STCs established in FY 1989, the Center for Molecular Biotechnology and the Center for Microbial Ecology, received final support in FY 1999 in accord with a planned phase-out. The three remaining STCs have begun to phase-down and will receive final funding in FY 2000.
The Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (CEAS), established in FY 1995, 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 so that it will be useful in addressing important environmental issues. For example, a CEAS workshop brought together scientists from various fields in an ambitious attempt to estimate the monetary value of the world’s ecosystems. Ecosystem goods and services are not easily quantifiable in economic terms. For this reason, they are often given little weight in policy decisions. This has broad implications because without the services of ecological systems, the economies of the Earth would grind to a halt. The resulting publication has stimulated intense discussion in the scientific and popular press.
In FY 1999, NSF supported 21 Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) sites. The LTER sites are representative of major ecosystems, ranging from the Arctic tundra of Alaska, to the deserts of New Mexico, to the rainforests of Puerto Rico, to the Dry Valleys of Antarctica. BIO provides support for 19 of these and the U.S. Polar Research Programs Activity supports two sites in Antarctica. Three sites have recently been added which have substantially expanded the network; one in a coastal ecosystem, jointly supported by BIO and the Geosciences (GEO) Activity and two sites are in human-dominated, urban ecosystems, jointly supported by BIO and the Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences (SBE) Activity. The Urban LTERs present ecologists with the unique opportunity to not only test ecological principles discovered in studies conducted in natural environments, but also discover new ecological principles unique to the urban environment.
A $300,000 increase in LTER funding in BIO in collaboration with funding from GEO will support additional coastal LTER sites in FY 2000. The BIO and GEO Activities are collaborating to establish LTER sites that focus on ecological systems at the interfaces of landmasses and coastal oceans, including the Laurentian Great Lakes. The proposed new sites will expand our knowledge of the organization and function of land/ocean‑margin ecosystems, the linkages between these systems and adjacent terrestrial and marine systems, and the impacts of major natural environmental perturbations in these regions.
The Plant Genome Research Subactivity supports virtual centers (centers without walls) or 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. For example, one center’s goal is to identify all the plant genes encoding for plant responses to drought and salinity stresses. Another center is aimed at providing specialized plant materials and structural genome data to identify and characterize the function of all maize (corn) genes. All centers have a significant component to train a new generation of scientists well versed in plant genomics. An increase of $2.0 million for a new competition of PGR virtual centers in FY 2000 will support investigators from different institutions and/or disciplines, networked to work together in functional genomics research.
In FY 2000, BIO will maintain support for the National Nanofabrication Users Network at the level of $300,000 to facilitate participation by biologists. This facility is supported in partnership with the Mathematics and Physical Sciences and the Engineering Activities.
The BIO Activity also provides $800,000 in support for the Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source (CHESS) (in conjunction with the Materials Research Subactivity in the MPS Activity). CHESS is one of the premier facilities for synchrotron x‑ray crystallography in the U.S. The high intensity electron beams of synchrotron sources are used for high-resolution studies of biological crystals such as viruses.
Education and Training
BIO places a high priority on programs for education, training and human resource development. This emphasis ensures that the next generation of scientists is 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 analyzing of information via distributed intelligence. This emphasis on education and training also aids in the development of a scientifically and technologically literate populace.
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Included within BIO is support for Collaborative Research at Undergraduate Institutions (C-RUI), the NSF-wide Integrative Graduate Education and Research Training program (IGERT), and postdoctoral programs.
BIO’s support for focused undergraduate programs centers on the C-RUI program which was established in FY 1995. This program was designed to support new multidisciplinary collaborative research groups at primarily undergraduate institutions. Each group is composed of faculty members representing at least two disciplinary areas and includes up to 10 undergraduates.
The NSF-wide IGERT program is distinguished from other training programs in that it has a strong emphasis on interdisciplinary training, innovation in graduate education, and involvement of under-represented groups. In its first year of operation, the program attracted a large number of proposals representing a full range of NSF science and engineering disciplines. Eighteen awards were made in FY 1998. These awards provide interdisciplinary training to over 900 graduate students in topics such as environment, transportation, new materials, and astrobiology. Of the 18 awards, 11 have significant components in biological sciences. In FY 2000, BIO will increase its contribution to IGERT by $200,000 for a total of $4.20 million while continuing its planned phase-down of the Research Training Group (RTG) program.
Postdoctoral research fellowships are supported within BIO in priority areas where there are shortages of adequately trained scientists. A postdoctoral program in Biological Informatics was begun in FY 1999. BIO will invest a total of $5.28 million in FY 2000 for postdoctoral training, including continuing support for the minority postdoctoral program and biological informatics postdoctoral program. An increase of $2.0 million will allow the initiation of a new postdoctoral fellowship program in microbial biology, with a focus on the fundamental biology of microbes. This program will help to build the human resource base needed for other microbially related programs including LExEn, Microbial Observatories, Biocomplexity, and world-wide efforts to sequence various microbial genomes. International experience will be strongly encouraged for these fellows.
Administration and Management
The Administration and Management key program function includes the cost of Intergovernmental Personnel Act appointments, contractors performing administrative functions and, in FY 2000, award- related travel.