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NSF & Congress

Hearing Summary: Senate Subcommittee Hearing on Computational Biology

September 17, 1996

On September 17, 1996, the Senate Science, Technology and Space Subcommittee of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee held a hearing on Computational Biology. Witnesses were Dr. Mary Clutter, Assistant Director for Biological Sciences, National Science Foundation; Dr. John C. Mazziotta M.D., Ph.D., Professor Of Neurology, Radiological Sciences and Medical and Molecular Pharmacology, UCLA School of Medicine; David T. Kingsbury Ph.D. Director, Biomedical Information Sciences Johns Hopkins University, School of Medicine: Dr. Ingrid C. Burke Associate Professor, Department of Forest Sciences, Colorado State University; and Dr. Robert Swenson, Montana State University.

Witnesses stressed the growth of computer applications across a variety of biological research activities, ranging from genome mapping and delineation of brain function to multivariate ecosystem plotting and remote laboratory network access. Dr. Mazziotta noted that in 25 years the number of articles that referenced "synapse" had grown from 500 to more than 30,000 and that neurosciences was the fastest growing area of research.

Dr. Kingsbury provided a real-time demonstrated of how human genome researchers could make use of extensive data bases from laboratories around the country via the Internet. Dr. Burke discussed her research on Great Plains ecosystems and the use of computers to combine satellite imagery with Federal data bases on weather, soil, and crops to understand how farming decisions transform ecosystems. Dr. Swenson, who directs the Center for Computational Biology at Montana State University testified on the use of computer networks to establish "colaboratories" that allow research collaboration among researchers working in universities around the world.

Dr. Clutter provided an overview of research on bioinformatics and computational biology supported through an variety of federal programs. The sequencing of Arabidopsis thaliana is an example of a successful interagency cooperative program that involves the National Science Foundation, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Energy, as well as international collaboration. The role of networked computers, and the need for training in computational innovations, is highlighted in the NSF Partnerships for Advanced Computational Infrastructure (PACI) program.

Chairman Conrad Burns (D-MT) asked whether witnesses would emphasize computer modeling or communication in the future. Dr. Kingsbury responded that there is a growing consensus that "the network is the computer," and that the advances in network capabilities are critical for the collaborations that will improve future modeling efforts.

See also: Testimony from Dr. Clutter.