of the BIO Advisory Committee
October 22-23, 1998
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 22 - Morning
Welcome & Introduction of New Members,
Dr. Mary Clutter
Dr. Mary Clutter, Assistant Director for the Biological Sciences
(BIO), gave an overview of BIOAC fall and spring meeting agendas.
She then welcomed the new members in attendance, Dr. James Collins
and Dr. Claire Fraser. She noted that Dr. Lynn Jelinski and Dr.
Steward Pickett were also new members, but were unable to attend
Remarks, Approval of Minutes, & Report
on BIO Management Retreat, Dr. Frank Harris
The minutes of the Spring 1998 meeting were unanimously approved
by the BIOAC. Dr. Frank Harris gave an overview of the Fall 1998
BIO Management Retreat. He noted that the Government Performance
and Results Act (GPRA) Performance Plan and the directorate response
were the main topics of discussion at retreat. BIO proposed that
the GPRA process would require continued heavy participation of
the BIOAC in COVs. BIO will provide the BIOAC with a draft performance
report for their approval before the Fall 1999 meeting. Another
topic of discussion was the effects of new initiatives and limited
staff on program management.
BioUpdate, Dr. Mary Clutter
Dr. Mary Clutter reviewed the status of the FY 1999 Budget, including
highlights of the Appropriation, activities planned for FY 1999,
and the results of the FY 1998 Knowledge and Distributed Intelligence
(KDI) competition. She noted the importance of the BIOAC role
in determining BIO priorities and gave an overview of NSF's budget
development timetable and process. Dr. Clutter also reviewed
BIOAC action items from FY 1998, including those related to GPRA,
microbial biology, environmental research, the Plant Genome Research
program, graduate education and human resource development, and
The BIOAC discussed:
- The status of programs for underrepresented minorities
GPRA Discussion, Dr. Judy Sunley & Ms.
Dr. Judy Sunley, Assistant to the NSF Director, gave a brief overview
of GPRA and its requirements, NSF's FY 1999 Performance Plan,
the schedule for completing the FY 1999 Performance Report, and
the roles of the Directorates and Advisory Committees in this
process. She also discussed the FY 1998 Mock Report, which will
be available for Advisory Committee review at the Spring 1999
meeting. She noted that the Advisory Committees have been very
helpful in the NSF GPRA planning process.
Ms. Sonya Mallinoff, Budget and Operations Officer for BIO, reviewed
BIO's FY 1997 Mock Report. She discussed the process the Working
Group used to develop the Mock Reports. BIO's report drew heavily
from Committee of Visitors (COV) reports, especially the Integrative
Biology and Neuroscience (IBN) Division-wide COV, and the annual
reports that BIO requires from each program. She stated that the
FY 98 Mock Report would be presented to the BIOAC at the Spring
1999 meeting. She noted that BIO and NSF are strengthening the
information sources available to evaluate performance for FY 1999.
The BIOAC discussed:
- The challenges NSF will face in using a more qualitative format
for the performance plan and report, particularly in striving
to develop a credible report and one that is meaningful to the
- How the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Department
of Energy (DOE) dealt with the performance plan development
- Do not use the "exceptional" rating category, as
it can be very problematic for the agency to rate itself at that
level unless it is required to do so
- The draft COV guidelines were considered reasonable
Working Lunch - Plant Genome Research Plans
The Information Age: Advanced Computing
in Biology, Dr. Gwen jacobs & Dr.
Dr. Gwen Jacobs reviewed recommendations from the President's Information
Technology Advisory Committee (PITAC) Interim Report, the NSF-DOE
Joint Workshop on Next Generation Biology: The Role of Next Generation
Computing, and the DOE-NSF National Workshop on Advanced Scientific
Computation. In particular, she noted that the PITAC report states
that information technology will be one of the key factors driving
progress in all areas of life in the coming century. The four research
priorities identified in this report are software, scalable information
infrastructure, high-end computing, and socio-economic and workforce
impacts. Dr. Jacobs then presented the charge to the breakout group:
- Biology must not only take full advantage of information technology
but must play a leading role in the development of information
technologies for the future. How can we accomplish this, beginning
The Workforce: Education (Undergraduate through
Postdocs), Dr. Marvalee Wake & Dr. Bruce Hayden
Dr. Marvalee Wake reviewed the recommendations in the National
Research Council report Trends in the Early Careers of Life Scientists.
In particular she focused on the report's recommendation that the
life science community constrain the rate of growth in the number
of graduate students and only develop new programs that serve an
emerging field or encourage the education of members of underrepresented
minority groups. Other recommendations included dissemination of
accurate information on the career prospects of young life scientists,
improvement of the educational experience for graduate students,
enhancement of opportunities for independence of postdoctoral fellows,
and alternative paths to careers in the life sciences.
Dr. Wake then reviewed the preliminary report of the NSF Working
Group on Undergraduate Education (WGUE). This report notes that
NSF should make investments to achieve the following outcomes:
High quality SMET education for all undergraduate students
- Effectiveness in teaching and scholarship for SMET faculty
in all types of institutions
- A robust research base that strengthens education in SMET disciplines
- Measures and studies that accurately assess quality in undergraduate
- Organizations that exert collective responsibility and leadership
for improving undergraduate SMET education
The WGUE is developing
recommendations to meet these outcomes.
Dr. Wake then presented
the following charge to the breakout group:
- Assess whether BIO's
investment in undergraduate education to postdoctoral education
is situated effectively and efficiently
The Environment, Dr. Frank Harris & Dr.
Dr. Frank Harris discussed NSF's leadership in environmental research,
particularly in the biological sciences. He noted that the Committee
on Environment and Natural Resources (CENR) Integrated Science
for Ecosystem Challenges and the President's Committee of Advisors
on Science and Technology (PCAST) Teaming with Life: Investing
in Science to Understand and Use America's Living Capital reports
highlighted the critical need for basic environmental research.
Dr. Harris also stated that the boundaries between disciplines
are disappearing and that this will help further develop research
relevant to the environment.
- Dr. Harris then presented the charge to the breakout group:
In its first 50 years, NSF has had a rich history in support of
environmental research and education. Given a new appreciation
and heightened awareness of the importance of environmental understanding
to society, how does NSF position itself for continuing its tradition
of leadership in environmental science and education into the
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 22 - Afternoon Session
Dr. Rita R. Colwell, Director, NSF
Dr. Rita Colwell, NSF Director, noted NSF's 7% budget increase,
particularly the increase in the Research and Related Activities
account (8.8%). Dr. Colwell discussed future emphases at NSF,
including information technology and biocomplexity. She stated
that it is time to address seriously biological problems on a
grand scale and that the Life and Earth's Environment (LEE) theme
provides the basis for the biocomplexity initiative currently
being planned. Dr. Colwell noted that partnerships will become
increasingly important in order to support such research. She
also noted the importance of investments in K-12 education and
discussed plans to weave the capability for graduate students
to work with K-12 students, particularly in large cities, into
existing Education and Human Resources Directorate (EHR) programs.
Dr. Colwell also noted the need to provide funding to support
laboratory technicians and undergraduates, as well as graduate
students. Educating the next generation of scientists to take
on a variety of careers, not just academic ones, is imperative.
The BIOAC discussed:
- The continuum between applied and basic research
and how the boundaries between them will become less distinct
- The need for large scale experimental facilities for research
in environmental biology, particularly when looking across
scales and levels of organization
- The need to ensure that all researchers have equal access to
technology and information. This is especially critical in genomics
Preliminary Reports from Breakout Groups
Dr. Gwen Jacobs gave a preliminary report for the Information
Age: Advanced Computing in Biology breakout group.
Dr. Marvalee Wake gave a preliminary report for the Workforce:
Education (Undergraduates through Postdocs) breakout group.
Dr. Frank Harris gave a preliminary report for the Environment
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 23 -
Committee of Visitors Report and Approval
The following Committee of Visitors Reports were discussed by
- Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences COV,
July 22-24, 1998 (reported by Dr Laura Hoopes)
- Ecological Studies Cluster, Division of Environmental Biology,
May 13-15, 1998 (reported by Dr. Frank Harris)
- Instrument-Related Activities Cluster, Division of Biological
Infrastructure, June 8-9, 1998 (reported by Dr. Gwen Jacobs)
- Physiology and Ethology Cluster, Division of Integrative Biology
and Neuroscience, July 13-15, 1998 (reported by Dr. Benjamin
The BIOAC approved the COV reports, with the following additions:
- Improvements in Facilities, Communications, and Equipment for
Research at Biological Field Stations and Marine Laboratories
(FSML) program should use ad hoc reviews in addition to panel
reviews when evaluating proposals
- NSF should pay particular attention to the possibility that
animal behavior research is underfunded
Other BIOAC suggestions included the following:
- Run a NSF-wide
COVs for certain topics, such as education or underrepresented
- Develop more partnerships with NIH, especially for funding
The BIOAC discussed:
- If reviewers are addressing the revised merit
review criteria. It was noted that some panels are paying
more attention to how proposals are addressing Criterion 2 (addresses
the broader impacts of the proposed activity) than others.
- NSF's mechanisms for providing feedback on the COV reports
- The COV's role in auditing the integrity of the review system
and the need to bring this out more in the reports
- How special competitions are funded
- The increasing cost of doing animal behavior research, as researchers
use more molecular techniques
Final Reports from Breakout Groups
The Information Age: Advanced Computing in Biology (reported
by Dr. Gwen Jacobs)
Noting that biology must be poised
to take advantage of information technology and play a leading
role in the development of the information technologies of the
future, this breakout group provided the following recommendations:
- Modeling and simulation and biological databases will be increasingly
important to biological research. To anticipate these needs,
the breakout group endorsed the PITAC recommendation that there
be an increased investment in computing resources for civilian
scientists. They also noted that BIO should remain vigilant
to the growing computational resource needs of the biological
- The lack of production quality software ("hardened software")
for the biological community was identified as a critical problem.
Existing programs are not robust enough to meet the demands of
the research community. NSF should explore mechanisms to support
the development of these resources.
- Good economic models should be developed for database development
and long-term maintenance. Some possibilities that should be
explored include an endowment model for the preservation of data
collections, user fees, contributions from industry in the form
of an "information
tax", or contributions from scientific societies.
- Most database architectures in use by the scientific community
were developed for commercial business applications and may
not be ideally suited to the needs of biological research. NSF
should explore ways to support the development of new database
architectures appropriate for biological research, as well as
address the need to establish standards for database design and
- NSF should foster communication between domain scientists and
computer and information scientists in order to encourage collaboration
for database development. This could be achieved by hosting
annual meetings of groups funded through the Database Activities
- Individuals trained in biological informatics are a critical
need. To meet this need, undergraduate biology curricula should
include more quantitative and computer science training. Industry
should be encouraged to participate in the training process,
perhaps through activities such as the GOALI program. KDI proposals
could also include a training component, since many of these
are likely to have an IT focus and a multidisciplinary set of
investigators who could provide these training opportunities.
The IGERT program and biological informatics postdoc program
are also excellent mechanisms to address this problem.
The Workforce: Education (Undergraduate through Postdocs) (reported
by Dr. Marvalee Wake)
This breakout group assessed whether BIO's allocations
for education are situated efficiently and effectively. In general,
they noted that BIO's position is appropriate. The breakout group
reviewed the recent National Research Council report on Early Careers
of Life Scientists, which recommends that training of students
in the life sciences be curtailed because supply exceeds demand.
The breakout group did not agree with this assessment and noted
that the concern about oversupply is one that requires calibration.
There are areas of the life sciences where oversupply is not the
issue, but level and nature of qualifications might be a problem.
In light of this, the breakout group made the following recommendations:
- Graduate students should be supported by funds in PI-directed
research grants only after they reach the equivalent of advancement
- PIs should explicitly delineate their responsibilities for
mentoring and training and the roles of undergraduate and/or
graduate students and/or postdocs in any proposal that requests
support for those categories.
- Final reports on grants should include the results of training
- BIO should consider the following targeted programs for postdocs:
(1) one for retraining or emphasis shifting and (2) another
that emphasizes the integration of research and teaching.
- A new emphasis on technology-based Master's programs should
- New data are needed regarding numbers of jobs available and
numbers and qualifications of applicants in order to assess the
presumed variation in the supply-demand ratio in different sectors
of the biological sciences.
- Counter to the NRC report recommendations, mentored teaching
should be a much larger part of the doctoral program.
- Fellowships and grants to graduate students should include
a teaching component.
- The group strongly endorsed RUI, REU, Graduate and Minority
Graduate Fellowships, Undergraduate Mentoring in Environmental
Biology (UMEB), and the Schoolyard LTERs, but was concerned about
the lack of data to assess the effectiveness of these programs.
- NSF should consider facilitating partnerships among industry,
government and universities to provide students with information
about alternative career paths.
- BIO should issue REU award announcements earlier so that undergraduates
will not have accepted other positions before learning about
- NSF should separate out all conflict of interest data now in
the Biographical Sketch and put it in an appendix to facilitate
database implementation. The Biographical Sketch should include
more information about the research and mentoring qualifications
of the PI.
The Environment (reported by Dr. Frank Harris)
This breakout group
discussed NSF's role in environmental research, education and assessment.
As a result of this discussion, they proposed a resolution that
endorsed the overall approach set forth in the CENR report "Integrated
Science for Ecosystem Challenges" and
recommended that the CENR report be regarded as a good first step
toward developing a comprehensive, long-term federal environmental
research strategy (see attached resolution). This resolution was
passed by the BIOAC. In addition, the breakout group offered the
- NSF's major role has been in supporting investigator initiated
research and this role is appropriate for supporting environmental
- The group encouraged collaborations within NSF to support environmental
research and education.
- NSF should continue to employ a multidisciplinary approach
to environmental research, such as collaborations between molecular
and ecological biology.
Reports from Representatives of Other Agencies
Dr. David Thomassen,
Department of Energy
Dr. Thomassen gave an overview of research supported through the
Biological and Environmental Research Program (BER) and budget
outlook for FY 1999, noting that funding was flat. He also discussed
the new 5 year plan for the Human Genome Program, structural
biology research, and DOE programs in microbial genomes, low
dose research, model organisms, natural and accelerated bioremediation,
and climate change technology. He noted that the BER Advisory
Committee meeting would be held November 1-2, 1998. Dr. Thomassen
then briefly discussed the programs supported by DOE's Energy
Biosciences Division. He concluded by reviewing FY 1998 and 1999
funding profiles for Environmental Remediation, Life Sciences,
and BER overall.
Dr. Marvin Cassman, National Institutes of Health
Dr. Cassman noted that the National Institute of General Medical
Sciences (NIGMS) would have a lot of opportunity to take advantage
of NIH's 15% budget increase in FY 1999, including sequencing
activities and model organisms. NIGMS is also seeking to lift
constraints on award sizes and reduce limitations on instrumentation
on grants. They are developing a new solicitation focusing on
research on complex systems, which will require collaborations
between biologists and mathematicians or engineers. They are
developing a major thrust addresses the genetic architecture
of complex genotypes. A related area of support is in pharmacogenetics,
which addresses the issue of differential drug response. Other
areas that NIGMS is addressing include structural genomics, improving
access to synchrotrons, and evolution and infectious disease.
NIGMS will also encourage joint teaching/research postdoctoral
fellowships to improve training in teaching.
The BIOAC discussed:
- If animal behavior research will be supported
by NIH in the future
- Access to research resources, such as gene chips and scanners,
and reliance on industry for technology
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 23 - Afternoon Session
Working Lunch - Interagency Plant Genome Initiative
Dr. Machi Dilworth discussed the review process and outcomes of
the FY 1998 Plant Genome Research program competitions in Collaborative
Research and Infrastructure and Arabidopsis thaliana Genome Sequencing.
67 proposals were submitted in response to Collaborative Research
and Infrastructure solicitation and 23 awards were made, 12 of
which were for virtual centers. Two awards were made to accelerate
Arabidopsis genome sequencing. In FY 1999, funding for the Plant
Genome Research program is $50 M. FY 1999 plans include continuing
accelerated Arabidopsis genome sequencing and a new Collaborative
Research and Infrastructure competition emphasizing functional
genomics. The program announcement for this new competition is
available. The deadline for letters of intent is December 4,
1998 and January 29, 1999 for full proposals. Dr. Dilworth noted
that NSF will be participating in an interagency effort to sequence
the rice genome as part of the larger international effort. Other
participating agencies include the Department of Energy and the
Department of Agriculture.
Dr. Mary Clutter noted that plant biology would change forever
because of the National Plant Genome Initiative. She stated that
Japan is the lead country in the effort to sequence the rice genome
and that in the United States, USDA will be the major player. US
investments in rice genome sequencing will be about $4.5-$5.0 M
per year. Dr. Clutter then discussed USDA's Food Genome Initiative,
noting that the program did not receive the funding requested for
The Spring 1999 BIOAC meeting will be held April 22-23.
The Fall 1999 meeting date has not yet been determined.
COVs to be held in 1999 include the Neuroscience Cluster (IBN),
Genetics Cluster (MCB), and the Research Resources and Training
The BIOAC briefly discussed the draft core COV questions and performance
- It may be useful to use a consulting firm to assist NSF
in developing a performance review process
- Provide historical analyses to the COVs, rather than just data
from the years that they are focusing on
- Could analyze support provided for the current group of Nobel
- Have Principle Investigators describe their key accomplishments
- Consider counting publications, but calibrate it to the disciplines.
Not all disciplines demonstrate the same level of productivity
in terms of numbers of papers published per year. Counting
the number of people that publish per year was also suggested.
Dr. Clutter asked the BIOAC to suggest useful areas of collaboration
between NSF and NIGMS. The following areas were suggested:
- Postdoc training
- Evolution of disease/virulence
Please contact Dr. Clutter with any further suggestions.
The meeting was adjourned at 2:30 p.m.
Hardcopy minutes approved by W. Franklin Harris, Chair
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