of the BIO Advisory Committee
November 16-17, 2000
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 16 - Morning
Welcome & Introduction of Committee Members, Dr. Mary Clutter
Dr. Mary E. Clutter, Assistant Director for Biological Sciences
(BIO) welcomed the committee members and thanked them for coming.
Dr. Gwen Jacobs, Chair of the BIOAC, introduced herself and asked
the committee members to do the same before the committee addressed
the first order of business.
Remarks, Approval of Minutes (April 2000), Dr. Gwen Jacobs, Chair
minutes of the April 6-7, 2000, meeting were unanimously approved.
Dr. Jacobs briefly outlined three issues that all NSF advisory
committees were asked to address during their discussions: First,
what are the best arguments for increasing the NSF budget over
the next few years? Second, what are the best measures of successful
performance for NSF's research and education activities? Third,
what are the "best practices" of your advisory committee?
Report on AC Chairs Meeting, Dr. Ellen Goldberg
Dr. Ellen Goldberg
summarized the Advisory Committee Chairs discussion on GPRA. The
Chairs discussed the difficulty in quantifying success for the
NSF. The concern over the increase in funding without the proportional
increase in staffing was also addressed. Dr. Edwards responded
that the increase in the complexity and size of many awards require
an increase in staff and acknowledged the need for NSF to be competitive
in attracting and retaining IT staff. These are two messages Dr.
Colwell may present when requesting an increase in the administrative
budget in future years.
Dr. Goldberg outlined the Reinvestment Initiative in Science and
Engineering (RISE) document discussed at the Advisory Committee
meeting for the Directorate for Mathematical and Physical Sciences
in May 2000. She highlighted the several areas of special emphasis:
Information Technology, Biotechnology and Mathematics (Pure, Applied
and Statistical). The need for the BIO Directorate to partner with
MPS was discussed.
The MPS Advisory Committee recommended that each Directorate add
a paragraph to the RISE document. This document would be presented
to the Administration. The general consensus of the BIOAC was that
the document favored MPS too heavily. Dr. Leonard Krishtalka recommended
the creation of a separate document, authored by committee members
and members of industry, addressing the ten great challenges of
science and their economic, industrial and societal impacts.
Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA),
Dr. James Edwards, Ms. Sonya Mallinoff & BIOAC GPRA WG
Ms. Sonya Mallinoff outlined
the four NSF FY2000 Annual Performance Goals for Results. BIO's
performance in the GPRA investment and management goals was summarized.
Ms. Mallinoff also presented an overview of the GPRA process from
the gathering of data to the report that is presented to the NSB
in February and sent to Congress with NSF's next budget request.
Dr. Jacobs suggested that the committee discuss the following
questions with Dr. Rita Colwell, NSF Director, during her session
with the committee over lunch: Are the average award sizes increasing
with the total NSF budget? Does NSF have the right balance of rotators
and permanent program officers? And, is NSF allocating its resources
to the most efficient ends?
BIO FY 2000 Committee of Visitors Reports
1. Division of Biological Infrastructure, Division Review, Dr.
Dr. Ralph Quatrano briefly summarized the COV report to DBI and
DBI's response to the recommendations. Overall the COV found that
DBI satisfactorily transitioned new emphasis areas and the Committee
favored increasing the number of these emphasis areas. In addition,
DBI was ranked favorably in the funding of new discoveries. The
Committee recommended reviewing the ratio of rotating to permanent
program officers, and increasing the total staff size. The Committee
also focused on the need to invest in infrastructure for instrumentation,
databases, and informatics.
Dr. Leonard Krishtalka broached the issue of NSF's position on
long-term support for organismal databases. Dr. Burt Ensley proposed
the idea of an NSF scientific trust fund, which would withhold
a certain percent of an award for the maintenance of scientific
databases at large. The AC recommended that NSF review possible
mechanisms to promote cooperation and the long-term security for
2. Division of Environmental Biology, Systematic and Population
Biology Cluster, Dr. John Wooley
Dr. John Wooley gave a synopsis of the COV report. The COV recommended
that this division consider the creation of sequencing centers,
similar to Electron Microscope facilities, that would ensure that
DNA sequencing is accomplished efficiently. Other recommendations
from the COV were to increase the average award size; to seize
the opportunity for NSF to integrate microbial biology and systematics;
and to rethink the NSF policy that prohibits providing reviewers'
comments to investigators before a final decision has been made
on a proposal.
3. Division of Integrative Biology and Neuroscience, Developmental
Mechanisms, Dr. James Collins
Dr. James Collins reviewed the findings and recommendations of
the COV. The main focus of the discussion was on the overlap of
the evolutionary and developmental biology communities. The committee
supports the funding of integrative research between these two
4. Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences,
Molecular Structure & Function
and Biomolecular Processes Clusters, Dr. Gwen Jacobs
Dr. Gwen Jacobs related the COV's recommendations. The ensuing
discussion focused on three areas:
- The effect of initiatives on
the core programs - New initiatives should be evaluated for
their relevance to the core programs and their impact on future
- The cofunding process - The cofunding process between
divisions and agencies is very similar. Both use the reviews
from the other's panels to evaluate the proposal separately and
then provide funding if the proposal is meritorious under the
program's guidelines. The Committee recommended formalizing the
selection process for proposal cofunding.
- Funding of established investigators
- The previous COV found that that clusters being reviewed
often funded small-scale awards that later become NIH awards.
Dr. Wooley attributed this to NIH's demand for preliminary data
and an established research record before funding a project.
The current COV did not find this same trend.
The committee approved all COV reports as submitted.
BIO GPRA Performance Evaluation
Dr. Ellen Goldberg reviewed the
draft BIOAC Directorate GPRA report. She highlighted the four GPRA "outcome
goals" as well
as the "quality of programs" goals and new merit review
criteria. The discussion then turned to BIO's performance on GPRA
goal # 3 - A diverse, globally oriented workforce of scientists
and engineers. The recommendation of the committee: BIO should
pair with the social sciences division to attempt to determine
why minorities are not more prevalent in the sciences.
Discussion with Dr. Rita Colwell, Director, NSF
Dr. Rita Colwell
thanked the Advisory Committee and gave an overview of the Fiscal
Year 2001 budget. This fiscal year the NSF received its largest
increase ever. Dr. Colwell attributed the success to several causes:
first, cooperation between the scientific and industrial communities
and second, a truly bipartisan effort in Congress.
Potential Areas of Interest for FY 2002 and Beyond
- Initiatives - Dr. Colwell was pleased
to see that the new initiatives were well received in Congress.
Biocomplexity in the Environment and 21st Century Workforce both
received funding increases. The Nanotechnology initiative was
funded. On the horizon are the Math Initiative in FY 2002, and
the Economics and Social Sciences Initiative in FY 2003.
Future of Grants - Fortunately, Congress has provided their
endorsement and the funding for NSF to increase the size of new
grants. However, the size of research stipends is still a serious
problem. The minimal funding received by graduate and postgraduate
researchers may pose a barrier to entry into or continuation
in the field of science for some students. The NSF should address
the amount of funding provided as well as the need for health
insurance and other benefits.
Furthermore, the way in which science
is conducted is changing. In the 21st century, virtual labs,
like NEON was designed to be, will help to integrate the
science of research and learning. Internet connectivity is a
primary means of providing access to technology and information
previously not available to many researchers. Projects such as
BugScope (http://bugscope.beckman.uiuc.edu/) demonstrate the
ability to bring scientific information to the community for
the purpose of research and education.
- EPSCoR - EPSCoR funding
increased to $75,000,000 in FY 2001. Congress directed the
NSF to continue to emphasize research infrastructure development
in the EPSCoR states. As seen by the success of the EPSCoR awards
in Mississippi and Puerto Rico, EPSCoR funding provides strength
- Coping with the growing quantity of biological
data - The need for efficient, scalable, easily accessible databases
is a pressing problem for biological researchers. The new challenge
for NSF and the community is to create a system that maintains
the integrity of research data while allowing access to it for
the community at large. Dr. Burt Ensley suggested that NSF create
a "trust fund" for grants that create large datasets.
The Foundation would withhold a portion of each grant to be used
to fund long-term data storage and maintenance. The suggestion
was well received by Dr. Colwell. She also reminded the AC of the
Information Technology Research initiative which funds research
in information storage and retrieval, connectivity, and scalable
Following Dr. Colwell's comments, the committee addressed the
following three issues in their discussion with her:
1. What are the best arguments for increasing
the NSF budget over the next few years? Congress must be convinced of the economic,
social and scientific value of the research funded by the NSF.
The committee revisited the suggestion that the BIO Directorate
create a document covering the 10 great challenging research questions
that can not be answered without the support of the NSF. Several
committee members suggested that a working group, which included
members of industry, be formed to draft this type of document for
Congress within the next few months.
2. What are the best measures of successful
performance for NSF's research and education activities? Dr. Ensley commented that
it is inherently difficult to quantify breakthroughs in science.
Dr. Laura Hoopes suggested that NSF use the effectiveness of the
proposal process as a measure of the Foundation's success. Quantifying
the review process by recording the turn around time for providing
feedback to the investigators is one possibility. Demonstrating
the ability to provide access to awards information and program
announcements through web based applications may be another measure
of efficiency. A third suggestion was to count the number of publications
or patents that arose from NSF supported investigators.
3. What are the "best practices" of your advisory
committee? Dr. Gwen Jacobs stated that the BIO Advisory Committee's commitment
to partnering with other Advisory Committees is a "best practice." The
Committee is forging ties with Math and Physical Sciences to create
cross directorate activities. Dr. Colwell pointed out that education
is always a cross training activity and that the Committee must
incorporate the social sciences and educational divisions in these
Staffing and infrastructural requirements
created by GPRA - The AC voiced its concern about the staffing and infrastructure
needed to accommodate the extra workload of GPRA and initiatives.
Dr. Colwell responded that NSF is addressing this concern on several
fronts. First, in fiscal year 2001, the Foundation received a 13%
increase in the administrative allowance of the budget. Second,
a working group within NSF has been established to assess the number
of staff needed to handle a doubling or tripling in the budget.
This includes training current staff as well as new hires. Another
possibility is to have an internal NSF academy to provide training
for support staff. As for the infrastructural needs, NSF has upgraded
the phone system and installed video teleconferencing and is in
the process of upgrading the computer systems. The NSF has made
great strides towards a completely electronic review process and
is the only agency that is fully electronic. NSF will also continue
to strive to create more efficient and effective means of communication.
A benefit of GPRA is that it provides the agency with an opportunity
to improve its performance. This year's review helped to identify
the need for more IT staff to maintain the Foundation's web site
and to ensure that documents are available in a timely manner.
Dr. Colwell agreed that the reporting standards set by Congress
place a heavy workload on the staff and suggested that to help
streamline the GPRA process, the records keeping mechanism and
reporting time need to be reviewed.
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 16 - Afternoon Session
BIO UPDATE/CURRENT ISSUES
1. BIO/NSF FY 2001 Budget, Dr. Mary Clutter.
Dr. Mary Clutter presented the budget history of the NSF over the
past fifty years and the fiscal year 2001 appropriations approved
by Congress. She addressed the addition of specific language
in the appropriations bill and outlined the five major challenges
facing the NSF in fiscal years 2001 to 2005. The rest of the
session included discussions on various topics from the expansion
of the MRE program to include cyber infrastructure to the size
and duration of awards. The group had a good discussion on the
topic of "boxology" and how to foster cross discipline
thinking. NEON was seen as a potential means for cross-pollination
of researchers. The importance of integrating the social sciences
in these types of discussions was stressed.
2. Biocomplexity, Dr. Joann Roskoski and Dr. Grace Wyngaard.
Fiscal year 1999 was the first year of the Biocomplexity program.
Dr. Roskoski outline the type of proposals received and the number
and size of the proposals funded. She also presented several
incubation activity awards and research projects that exemplified
the multidisciplinary nature of the Biocomplexity program. The
committee talked about the selection process for the awarded
proposals and the number of environmental proposals submitted.
Dr. Wyngaard stressed that all Biocomplexity proposals contain
a management and informatics plan.
Dr. Wyngaard began her presentation with an outline of the draft
for the FY 2001 Biocomplexity in the Environment special competition:
Integrated Research and Education in Environmental Systems. The
new competition contains four thematic areas. The draft strategic
plan for FY 2002 to 2006 includes five broad themes and four more
focused themes. Dr. Wyngaard provided more in depth coverage of
the Genome-enabled Environmental Science theme. This approach to
studying biocomplexity utilizes genetic information to understand
the functioning of ecological systems.
3. Information Technology Research (ITR), Dr. Eugene Bruce and
Dr. Gerald Selzer.
Dr. Bruce provided an overview of the FY 2000 ITR competition and
relayed some of the biology-related topics from the 2000 ITR proposals.
Lastly he addressed the five ITR Research Areas for the FY 2001
competition. The group discussed the educational component of the
ITR grants and the individual management of awards by separate
divisions. ITR awards appear to be creating a change in the scientific
community as more institutions allow researchers to form non-traditional
4. Plant Genome and 2010 Project, Dr. Machi Dilworth.
The Plant Genome Research Program hosted an awardees meeting in
September. Two PIs from each project attended. In 2000, the Plant
Genome Research Program will move away from supporting infrastructure
to focus more on functional genomics, tool development and broadening
the participation in genome research. The 2010 Project encourages
small groups to concentrate on sequencing a set of Arabidopsis
thaliana genes and determining their function. The overall goal
is to determine the function(s) of all 25,000 genes in Arabidopsis.
5. NEON, Dr. Terry Yates and Dr. Scott Collins.
This proposed project has generated support from researchers, other
countries, and a host of other agencies. Thecommittee expressed
its support for the NSF lead role in the project.
6. Nanoscale Science, Dr. Mary Jane Saunders and Dr. Eve Barak.
Dr. Mary Jane Saunders reviewed the Nanoscale Science initiative.
The committee discussed the scope of the biological proposals
submitted to the initiative. One conclusion regarding the bio-related
proposals was that the initiative may not be reaching environmental
7. MPS/BIO Working Group, Dr. Mary Jane Saunders
and Dr. Margaret Palmer.
Dr. Mary Jane Saunders explained the charge of the working
group and its plan to promote cooperation in the internal and
external scientific communities. The Working Group has already
hosted one speaker who exemplifies the type of cultural cross
over between mathematics and biology that the group would like
to foster. Multidisciplinary researchers should be the rule
not the exception. To this end, the committee recommended promoting
changes in the graduate and undergraduate curricula. The conversation
then turned to IGERT and its influence on the scientific community.
IGERT helps to create non-traditional researchers.
Dr. Sam Scheiner presented a brief explanation of the Mathematical
Sciences initiative. This is another area where cross-disciplinary
work by undergraduates and graduates can create positive cultural
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 17 -
Education Working Group, Dr. Marvalee Wake and Dr. Laura Hoopes,
Staff Liaison: Dr. Grace Wyngaard
Dr. Wyngaard discussed the findings
of the study by the Education Working Group. One of the recommendations
was for NSF to develop an education philosophy. To improve teaching
will require a paradigm shift and a new set of tools. The draft
report also recommends a stronger working partnership with EHR.
In closing, Dr. Wyngaard outlined the five main themes of the Directorate's
Education Philosophy. The group then discussed biology's unique
contribution to the Foundation's education effort, citing as an
example the work in neuroscience on the science of learning. In
addition, revised programs such as the new REU sites announcement
and Research Opportunities Awards provide undergraduate and K -
12 teachers with more opportunity to hone their pedagogical skills.
Science should be taught by the same method that scientific research
is conducted. The group recommended a dialogue with EHR to focus
on the way in which science is taught and the way in which it should
Genomics Working Group Report on Microbe Workshop, Dr. Claire
Fraser and Dr. John Wooley Staff Liaison: Dr. Maryanna Henkart
Maryanna Henkart described the purpose of the Microbe Project workshop
and identified the seven topics covered at the session. The working
group intended to have an action plan ready in a month (January
2001). The working group goals were to define NSF's role in the
microbe project and to help recommend focus areas of microbial
genomics. Dr. Henkart provided information on the group's breakout
session topics: genome sequencing/ sequencing biodiversity; bioinformatics
and infrastructure; and functional genomics. The working group
also defined five specific recommendations for the BIO Directorate.
Important future foci:
1. Catalog the biosphere to increase the breadth of phylogenetic
2. Implement centers of excellence in genome analysis.
3. Define and implement standards for genome annotation and data
4. Training in genome enabled science for undergraduates and established
5. NSF should fund existing centers to bolster the study of functional
LTER 20-Year Review, Dr. Frank Harris
Dr. Frank Harris reviewed
the history of the LTER program and discussed a proposed 20-year
review. The focus of the AC discussion was on how to capitalize
on the information technology boom using the LTERs. Data sharing
requires standardized information protocols and leadership to provide
guidance to the sites. These sites provide a wealth of information
on student participation and education as well as long term scientific
data. They key is to synthesize all the information generated from
all the LTER sites.
Environment Report on AC-ERE Meeting, Dr. James Collins and Dr.
Staff Liaison: Dr. Joann Roskoski
Dr. Joann Roskoski presented a
report on the Advisory Committee for Environmental Research and
Education (AC-ERE) meeting. This is the first advisory committee
created by the NSF for a virtual area. Because of the long-term
nature of the committee's agenda, the committee appointments last
one to two years and the committee will continue to meet for the
foreseeable future. Dr. Clutter emphasized the need for new methods
and tools to understand complex systems and to synthesize environmental
research across disciplines. Dr. Edwards recommended joint advisory
panels to foster the type of cross communication needed for such
an ambitious agenda.
GPRA report discussion
The Committee approved the BIOAC
GPRA report with modifications. All numerical ratings were removed
from the report. The group discussed the utility of attempting
to quantify the GPRA objectives in this way. The general consensus
being that quantitative data such as number of publications produced
by NSF supported PIs and the efficiency of the review process are
more desirable measures. Because the Foundation is shifting towards
a completely electronic review process, the group favored increasing
the number of IT staff. In addition, the gathering of publication
data would require the creation of a new searchable database and
therefore also requires more trained IT staff. Lastly, the committee
addressed the amount of reporting time required to produce the
GPRA report and recommended that the staff be increased to lessen
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 17 - Afternoon Session
Protein Structure Initiative and Alliance for Cellular Signalling,
Dr. Marvin Cassman, NIGMS/NIH
In September, the National Institute
of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) launched its new pilot project
in structural genomics. Seven centers were designated as the lead
organizations for the projects. Some of the target species of the
projects are Mycoplasma genitalium, Drosophila melanogaster and
Dr. Cassman also discussed the agency's pharmacogenetics research
and the new "Glue Grants," which are designed to promote
collaborations to address complex topics such as cellular communication.
The "Glue Grants" require high throughput analysis and
large databases to store data. Therefore a high priority is the
coordination between the groups studying the protein structures.
One solution may be distributed computing. The question then is
who would oversee the progress of the research groups and maintain
the integrity of the site. Dr. Cassman also detailed the Alliance
for Cellular Signalling project. For more information please visit:
Status of Microbial Cell Project and Environment Budget Dr. Aristides
(Ari) Patrinos, DOE
Dr. Patrinos discussed the DOE budget for 2001,
highlighting some of the areas that received increases (infrastructure
and initiatives in biomedical and microbial cell research, climate
modeling, environmental remediation and some construction for Mouse
House at ORNL). Dr. Patrinos emphasized the need for NSF and DOE
to work together to integrate programs and to share resources efficiently.
He also mentioned an interagency report on the status of microbial
science due to be out in December. The Microbial Cell project is
an integral part of the "Bringing the Genome to life" initiative.
The DOE hopes to receive funds in the 2002 budget to implement
the findings from this report.
The AC recommended sponsoring three
1. Long term stewardship of BIO initiatives within NSF. To whom
should this responsibility fall? Dr. Krishtalka and Dr. Wooley
volunteered to co-lead a workshop, using the Microbial workshop
as a model, on this topic.
2. Ten Most Important Questions in Biology. Create a joint committee
with other AC members to write this document which would be presented
to the new Presidential Science Advisor. It was suggested that
the Committee invite Dr. Murray Gell-Mann (Santa Fe Institute)
to participate in the working group.
3. Curatorial Responsibilities for Databases. The working group
would focus on the creation of standards for NSF-supported databases.
Industry and the scientific community must coordinate the cataloging
and annotating of collected data. Dr. Krishtalka volunteered for
the database workshop.
FY 2001 BIO Committee of Visitors
The list of upcoming meetings was sent to the members of
the committee. The following AC members volunteered to attend these
- Division of Biological Infrastructure - Plant Genome, May
9-11, 2001 - Dr. Bert Ensley
- Division of Environmental Biology
- Long Term Research, March 28-30, 2001 - Dr. Leonard Krishtalka
- Division of Integrative Biology and Neuroscience Division,
March 20-22, 2001 - Dr. Gwen Jacobs
- Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences Cell Biology
Cluster, March 21-23, 2001 -
Dr. George Jones (tentative)
Future Meeting Dates:
Spring -- April 26-27, 2001
Fall -- November 8-9, 2001
Dr. Ellen Goldberg will be the next chair.
The meeting adjourned at 2:15 p.m.
/S/ Ellen Goldberg April 26, 2001
Ellen Goldberg, Chair Date
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