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This blog from ASPB's public affairs unit will provide updates on policy developments in Washington and other plant biology news impacting the ASPB community. Please send any news, comments, or suggestions to ASPB's public affairs director, Adam Fagen, at Policy Archives available under Group Pages.


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Top tags: Congress  appropriations  USDA  House  NSF  Senate  NIH  DOE  President Obama  Farm Bill  OSTP  biofuels  award  education  event  fellowship  international  White House  workforce  COMPETES Act  energy  funding  GMO  grants  NSB  Alert  HHMI  National Academies  New York Times  nomination 

ASPB member Pat Schnable to give Capitol Hill seminar on the future of our food

Posted By Adam Fagen, Wednesday, July 20, 2011
ASPB member Patrick Schnable will be presenting a research seminar on Capitol Hill next week.  Schable, who is Baker Professor of Agronomy and founding director of the Center for Plant Genomics at Iowa State University, will be speaking as part of the National Council for Food and Agriculture Research's (National C-FAR's) "Lunch~N~Learn" seminar series.

Patrick S. Schnable
Iowa State University

"Mapping for the Future of Our Food"

Monday, July 25, 2011
12:00 - 12:55 p.m.

1302 Longworth House Office Building

Seminar abstract:

Following its domestication about 10,000 years ago, plant breeders have exploited the extensive genetic diversity of maize (corn) to adapt this species to meet human needs.  Over the past 75 years breeders have been tremendously successful at increasing grain yields.  But increasing world demand for corn grain for food, feed, fiber and fuel provides new challenges, particularly because future yield increases must take place in a world where critical agricultural inputs will be more expensive (e.g., nitrogen fertilizer) and limited (e.g., water).  Over the past 15 years, the Federal government has made substantial research and development investments in plant genomics, including the $30 million maize genome sequencing project.  This presentation focuses on how future research and development can be build on the lessons learned from the maize sequencing project to ensure high levels of sustainable agricultural production even in the face of increasing climate variability.

The seminar is free and open to the public.  If you wish to attend, RSVP to by 5 p.m. on Friday, July 22.

Schnable is a member of ASPB's Public Affairs Committee.  He was named a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2010.

National C-FAR is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, consensus-based and customer-led coalition that brings food, agriculture, nutrition, conservation and natural resource stakeholders together with the food and agriculture research community, serving as a forum and a unified voice in support of sustaining and increasing public investment at the national level in food and agricultural research, extension and education.  ASPB is a member of National C-FAR and ASPB Public Affairs Director Adam Fagen is a member of National C-FAR's board of directors.

Tags:  event  National C-FAR 

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National Science Board seeks nominations for new members

Posted By Adam Fagen, Friday, July 08, 2011
The National Science Board (NSB) is seeking nominations for candidates to serve as a member of the NSB for the years 2012-2018.

The NSB sets policy for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and advises the President and Congress on issues related to science and technology.  NSB members are selected for their eminence in research, education or public service, and records of distinguished service.   The Board is made up of 25 members, and the NSF director serves as an ex officio member.  The current Board includes ASPB member Douglas Randall of the University of Missouri.

NSB members must be formally nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate, but the Board recommends individuals for consideration.  In its review of candidates, the Board applies the statutory eligibility requirements and also considers demographics, balance among professional fields, active researchers, teachers and administrators, and private for-profit and non-profit representation.

According to an advisory from the NSB, the following attributes will be particularly considered for NSB candidates:

  • Record of distinguished service and potential for further contribution in the line of service.
  • Credibility in the scientific, technological, engineering, industrial, public sector and educational communities. To include:
    • outstanding scientific, technological, engineering or public activity credentials
    • recognized intellectual contributions (i.e., patents, scholarship)
    • breadth, depth, and understanding of scientific knowledge and contributions thereto
    • scientific, technological, engineering, industrial, educational and administrative accomplishments
  • Demonstrated leadership in their field.

Nominations consist of a letter of nomination/recommendation, a biography of the candidate, and the candidate's curriculum vitae (without publications).  Nominations will be open through August 12, 2011, and may be submitted through the NSB nomination system (

ASPB welcomes suggestion of individuals from its members of those who would be strong candidates to serve on the NSB.  Please direct any suggestions to ASPB Director of Public Affairs Adam Fagen at

Additional information:

Tags:  nomination  NSB  NSF 

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Senate Agriculture Committee will host Farm Bill field hearing in Kansas

Posted By Adam Fagen, Tuesday, July 05, 2011
The U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry will hold a field hearing on the Farm Bill in Wichita, Kansas, on August 25, 2011, according to a press release from Ranking Member Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS).

As quoted in the release, Sen. Roberts said, "This hearing will allow us to garner insight from our producers in Kansas as we begin the important task of writing the next Farm Bill. Their perspectives on current agriculture programs and the direction of this next Farm Bill are critical to the committee’s work in drafting policies that provide producers and rural America with the tools necessary for success."

The hearing will be held Thursday, August 25, 2011, from 9 a.m.-noon CDT, at the Hilton Wichita Airport, 2098 Airport Road, Wichita, Kansas.

You may participate in the hearing by submitting written testimony which will be included in the official record of the hearing. A copy of your testimony can be submitted at the hearing or can be sent to the committee no later than Thursday, September 1, 2011. Send your testimony to or to U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture Nutrition and Forestry, 328A Russell Senate Office Bldg, Washington, D.C. 20510.

Tags:  Congress  Farm Bill  Senate 

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NIFA and APLU seek Morrill Lecture nominations

Posted By Adam Fagen, Thursday, June 30, 2011
The current issue of the NIFA Update, published by the Office of the Director at USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture including the following announcement seeking nominations for the Justin Smith Morrill Lecture:


Each year the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) joins with the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) to sponsor a lecture presented at the APLU annual meeting.  The lecture honors one of the three most important historical figures of the land-grant university system, William Henry Hatch for research, Seaman A. Knapp for extension, and Justin Smith Morrill for whom the Morrill Act, which created the Land-Grant University system, is named.  In 2011, the normal rotation would honor William Henry Hatch; however, because 2012 marks the 150th anniversary passage of the Morrill Act, both NIFA and APLU agreed to move the Morrill Lecture to the fall of 2011 to serve as the kickoff for the Morrill Act Sesquicentennial Celebration. NIFA and APLU are seeking lecturer nominations to honor Justin Smith Morrill.

The 2011 Justin Smith Morrill Lecture will be presented at the APLU annual meeting in San Francisco, November 13-15. The Lectureship is awarded to honor outstanding contemporary leadership in teaching and significant contributions as an educator. NIFA seeks to identify potential topics and a dynamic speaker who can provoke discussion among meeting participants and prepare a formal lecture. The lecture will be published on the NIFA website for public viewing. Please share this information with colleagues outside of the agricultural research, education, and extension system, including stakeholders, foundations, public interest groups, or international organizations. Nominations are encouraged from all sources.

Nominations should include one-page vitae on the nominee, a description of his or her major accomplishments and how these are pertinent to advancing excellence in higher education in the food and agricultural sciences, and contact information for both the nominee and the nominator. Nominations are due by July 14, 2011, and should be forwarded electronically to Kimberly Whittet (, management and policy specialist in NIFA’s Office of the Director. A committee will be appointed to review the submissions and narrow the scope of the recommendations in order to make a final decision.

ASPB members are encouraged to submit nominations of plant biologists and others who would make excellent nominees to deliver the Morrill Lecture.

Tags:  APLU  USDA 

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NSB and NSF seek input on proposed merit review criteria revision and principles

Posted By Adam Fagen, Monday, June 27, 2011
The National Science Board (NSB) has been conducting a review of the National Science Foundation's (NSF's) merit review criteria: Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts.  The NSB Task Force on Merit Review has now issued a draft of the revised criteria for public comment.  They have also identified a set of underlying principles upon which the criteria should be based.

In developing the revised criteria, the NSB Task Force looked at reports from a variety of Committees of Visitors reviewing NSF programs, held a large number of conversations and input from stakeholders and members of the impacted communities, and invited public comment on its website.  According to NSF and NSB, the various stakeholder groups had very similar perspectives and suggestions.  In summary, "It became clear that the two review criteria of Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts are in fact the right criteria for evaluating NSF proposals, but that revisions are needed to clarify the intent of the criteria, and to highlight the connection to NSF’s core principles."

NSF is now seeking comment on the principles and revised criteria.  Comments should be sent by July 14, 2011, to  ASPB members are encouraged to offer their reactions and perspectives.

The draft is reproduced below and is available on the NSB website at


Merit Review Principles and Criteria
The identification and description of the merit review criteria are firmly grounded in the following principles:

  1. All NSF projects should be of the highest intellectual merit with the potential to advance the frontiers of knowledge.
  2. Collectively, NSF projects should help to advance a broad set of important national goals, including:
    • Increased economic competitiveness of the United States.
    • Development of a globally competitive STEM workforce.
    • Increased participation of women, persons with disabilities, and underrepresented minorities in STEM.
    • Increased partnerships between academia and industry.
    • Improved pre-K–12 STEM education and teacher development.
    • Improved undergraduate STEM education.
    • Increased public scientific literacy and public engagement with science and technology.
    • Increased national security.
    • Enhanced infrastructure for research and education, including facilities, instrumentation, networks and partnerships.
  3. Broader impacts may be achieved through the research itself, through activities that are directly related to specific research projects, or through activities that are supported by the project but ancillary to the research. All are valuable approaches for advancing important national goals.
  4. Ongoing application of these criteria should be subject to appropriate assessment developed using reasonable metrics over a period of time.

Intellectual merit of the proposed activity

The goal of this review criterion is to assess the degree to which the proposed activities will advance the frontiers of knowledge. Elements to consider in the review are:

  1. What role does the proposed activity play in advancing knowledge and understanding within its own field or across different fields?
  2. To what extent does the proposed activity suggest and explore creative, original, or potentially transformative concepts?
  3. How well conceived and organized is the proposed activity?
  4. How well qualified is the individual or team to conduct the proposed research?
  5. Is there sufficient access to resources?

Broader impacts of the proposed activity

The purpose of this review criterion is to ensure the consideration of how the proposed project advances a national goal(s). Elements to consider in the review are:

  1. Which national goal (or goals) is (or are) addressed in this proposal? Has the PI presented a compelling description of how the project or the PI will advance that goal(s)?
  2. Is there a well-reasoned plan for the proposed activities, including, if appropriate, department-level or institutional engagement?
  3. Is the rationale for choosing the approach well-justified? Have any innovations been incorporated?
  4. How well qualified is the individual, team, or institution to carry out the proposed broader impacts activities?
  5. Are there adequate resources available to the PI or institution to carry out the proposed activities?

Tags:  NSF  peer review 

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ASPB member to offer Capitol Hill briefing on biofuels on June 24

Posted By Adam Fagen, Thursday, June 23, 2011
ASPB member Donald P. Weeks will be a featured speaker in a June 24, 2011, Capitol Hill briefing on "The Road to the New Energy Economy: Biofuels from Algae."

Rayburn House Office Building, Room B-369
Friday, June 24, 2011
12:00 - 1:00 p.m.

Weeks, who is Maxcy Professor of Agriculture and Natural Resources in the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, studies the genetic and molecular mechanisms involved in the ability of algal cells (Chlamydomonas reinhardtii) to enhance photosynthesis by increasing internal levels of CO2 to 60x the external levels of CO2 (i.e., a carbon concentrating mechanism) and the genetic engineering of crop plants for enhanced photosynthesis, disease resistance and herbicide resistance. Weeks also serves as director of the Nebraska Coalition for Algal Biology and Biotechnology.

Also speaking at the event is Connie Lausten, principal of cLausten LLC, who has helped develop new technologies and shape policies from electricity to biofuels. The discussion will be moderated by Corey S. Powell, the editor-in-chief of DISCOVER Magazine.

The event is presented by the National Science Foundation and DISCOVER Magazine in cooperation with IEEE-USA and ASME.

Additional information:

Tags:  biofuels  Congress  event 

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NRC report says science education should be as important as math and reading

Posted By Adam Fagen, Thursday, June 23, 2011
A new report from the National Research Council calls upon state, national, and local policymakers to elevate K-12 science education to the same level of importance as reading and mathematics.

Commissioned by Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), Successful K-12 STEM Education: Identifying Effective Approaches in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics identifies key elements of high-quality STEM education that could be targeted:
  • A coherent set of standards and curricula
  • Teachers with high capacity to teach in their discipline
  • A supportive system of assessment and accountability
  • Adequate instructional time (time spent on elementary science instruction has decreased in recent years, likely because of focus on reading and math in No Child Left Behind Act)
  • Equal access to high-quality STEM learning opportunities
  • School conditions and culture that support learning
The report suggests that one way to elevate science to the same level of importance as mathematics and reading is to assess science subjects as frequently as is done for reading and math, using an assessment system that supports learning and understanding.

The report calls upon policymakers to invest in helping educators in STEM fields teach more effectively, including professional development through peer collaboration and professional learning communities, among other approaches. The report also recommends that school districts should consider specialty schools that are targeted to STEM disciplines.

The study, which was sponsored by the National Science Foundation, was authored by a committee chaired by Adam Gamoran, John D. MacArthur Professor of Sociology and Educational Policy Studies and director of the Wisconsin Center for Education Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Additional information:

Tags:  education  National Academies  NRC 

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House Ag Committee to hold hearing on agricultural biotechnology

Posted By Adam Fagen, Wednesday, June 22, 2011
The U.S. House Committee on Agriculture Subcommittee on Rural Development, Research, Biotechnology, and Foreign Agriculture will hold a public hearing on Thursday, June 23, to review the opportunities and benefits of agricultural biotechnology.

Testifying at the hearing will be three witnesses:

Live streaming video of the hearing should be available below at 11 a.m. EDT and/or on the House Agriculture Committee website at


Additional information:

Tags:  Congress  GMO  House 

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World Food Prize awarded to former presidents of Ghana and Brazil

Posted By Adam Fagen, Tuesday, June 21, 2011
The 2011 laureates of the World Food Prize were announced at a ceremony held the U.S. Department of State.  For the first time, the prize was awarded to two former heads of state:  John Agyekum Kufuor, former president of Ghana (left), and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, former president of Brazil (right).

The two were honored for their personal commitment and visionary leadership while serving as presidents of their country in creating and implementing government policies to alleviate hunger and poverty in their countries.

Some excerpts from the award announcement describes the laureates' accomplishments:

A guiding principle for President John Kufuor during the entirety of his two terms as president was to improve food security and reduce poverty through public- and private-sector initiatives. To that end, he implemented major economic and educational policies that increased the quality and quantity of food to Ghanaians, enhanced farmers’ incomes, and improved school attendance and child nutrition through a nationwide feeding program....

President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva made it clear even before he took office that fighting hunger and poverty would be a top priority of his government. He called upon all elements of Brazilian society to embrace his goal to ensure three meals a day for all citizens, to alleviate poverty, to enhance educational opportunities for children, and to provide greater inclusion of the poor in society.

The World Food Prize was conceived by Dr. Norman E. Borlaug, recipient of the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize. Since 1986, the World Food Prize has honored outstanding individuals who have made vital contributions to improving the quality, quantity or availability of food throughout the world. 

Hosting the event at the State Department were USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah and Under Secretary of State for Economic, Energy and Agricultural Affairs Robert Hormats. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack also spoke at the event.

In his remarks, USAID Administrator Shah announced Feed the Future's "Borlaug 21st Century Leadership" program, a $32.5 million investment to help shape the next generation of leaders in agriculture. This program will provide mentoring and training opportunities for agriculture professionals across the globe and will help institutions strengthen their agriculture systems and best practices to serve as premier learning institutions.

Additional information:

Tags:  award  Feed the Future 

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NIFA will not fill principal scientist positions

Posted By Adam Fagen, Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Chavonda Jacobs-Young, acting director of USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) has announced that USDA will not be filling the positions of principal scientist for NIFA's four institutes at this time.

The relevant part of Dr. Jacobs-Young's message is below:

After much consideration of our current resources, I, along with our senior leaders in USDA and REE [Research, Education, Economics], have decided that at this time it is in the best interest of our agency to not fill the positions of Principal Scientist for NIFA’s four institutes. While these are tough times that require difficult choices, we will move forward with our selection of three other key NIFA leadership positions: Assistant Director for the Institute of Food Safety and Nutrition; Budget Director; and Director of Planning, Accountability, and Reporting.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has asked us to think creatively about how we do business. I assure you that NIFA’s leadership team will do all it can to get us through these lean times. There is no doubt that NIFA’s research, education, and extension programs will have real impacts for American agriculture and the American people. I ask for your support as we continue to build a strong Department of Agriculture for the 21st century.

Tags:  USDA 

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ALERT: USDA appropriations amendments could be catastrophic to USDA research

Posted By Adam Fagen, Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Today, the U.S. House of Representatives will be considering H.R. 2112, the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2012.  This is the bill that provides funding for USDA and other agencies for fiscal year 2012.

Several amendments have been proposed that would have a catastrophic impact on funding for USDA research.

In particular, an amendment (H.AMDT.428) from Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) would cut $1.8 billion from USDA including a cut of $650 million from the Agricultural Research Service (a 65% cut!), $85 million from the National Agricultural Statistics Service, $43 from the Economic Research Service, and $1.04 billion from the Food for Peace Grants.

We urge you to contact your Congressional representatives IMMEDIATELY and urge them to oppose Rep. Chaffetz's amendment and any amendments that would be harmful to research.

There are several other amendments proposed that would impact funding for USDA research.  We will update this blog post with more details.

You can find contact information for your representative by entering your zip code at the top of the website for the House of Representatives.


Thank you for your calls!  Rep. Chaffetz's amendment failed on a vote of 83-338.  No other amendments passed that have any significant effect on the USDA research portfolio.

Tags:  alert  appropriations  House  USDA 

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NIGMS names Judith Greenberg as acting director

Posted By Adam Fagen, Tuesday, June 14, 2011
The National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), one of the 27 institutes and centers that make up the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has named Judith H. Greenberg as acting director upon the departure of Jeremy Berg at the end of June.

NIGMS has a $2 billion budget that primarily funds basic research in cell biology, biophysics, genetics, developmental biology, pharmacology, physiology, biological chemistry, bioinformatics and computational biology. The institute supports more than 4,500 research grants, which make up about 10 percent of all grants funded by NIH. NIGMS also funds a substantial amount of research training, including programs designed to increase the diversity of the biomedical and behavioral research workforce. NIGMS supports a substantial fraction of the plant biology research funded by NIH.

A developmental biologist by training, Greenberg has directed the NIGMS Division of Genetics and Developmental Biology since 1988. In Fiscal Year 2010, the division’s budget was $566 million.

Since 1984, Greenberg has been the project officer for the Human Genetic Cell Repository, which provides cell lines and DNA samples to scientists studying genetic diseases.

She served as NIGMS acting director from May 2002 to November 2003. Greenberg’s other leadership roles at NIGMS include overseeing the development of the institute’s strategic plan issued in 2008 and its strategic plan for research training issued earlier this year. She now chairs the implementation committee for the training strategic plan.

Prior to joining NIGMS as a program administrator in 1981, Greenberg conducted research in the intramural program of what is now NIH’s National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. Her focus was on cell migration and differentiation in early embryonic development.

Greenberg earned a B.S. degree in biology from the University of Pittsburgh, an M.A. degree in biology from Boston University, and a Ph.D. degree in developmental biology from Bryn Mawr College in Bryn Mawr, Pa.

Additional information

Tags:  NIH 

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Cora Marrett finally confirmed as NSF deputy director

Posted By Adam Fagen, Friday, June 03, 2011
After a very long wait, Cora Marrett was finally confirmed by the U.S. Senate on May 26 to serve as Deputy Director of the National Science Foundation (NSF). She is the 12th deputy of the foundation. Marrett was nominated for the NSF deputy director position by President Obama on August 5, 2010, and then re-nominated in the new Congress on January 5, 201, because the previous Congress did not hold a vote on Marrett's nomination..

In a statement, NSF Director Subra Sureash was quoted as saying, "Dr. Marrett is a familiar leader at the agency, and her continued commitment to NSF's mission makes her well suited for this role.  The agency will truly benefit from her years of experience at both the federal and university levels."

Marrett has served as the senior advisor for Foundation Affairs since February 2011. She served as NSF acting director when Arden L. Bement resigned in June 2010, and before Suresh was confirmed as NSF director in October.

Previously, Marrett served as the assistant director for NSF's education and human resources (EHR) directorate from 2007-2009. While there, she led the directorate to support NSF's mission to achieve excellence in U.S. science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education at all levels and in both formal and informal settings.

From 1992-1996, Marrett served as NSF's assistant director for social, behavioral and economic sciences (SBE).  For her leadership in developing new research programs and articulating the scientific projects of this new directorate, Marrett received NSF's Distinguished Service Award. 
Prior to returning to NSF in 2007, Marrett served as the University of Wisconsin's senior vice president for academic affairs for six years. Before that, she served as senior vice chancellor for academic affairs and provost at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst for four years.

Marrett holds a bachelor of arts degree from Virginia Union University, and master of arts and doctorate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, all in sociology. She received an honorary doctorate from Virginia Union University in May 2011.  She received an honorary doctorate from Wake Forest University in 1996, and was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1998, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1996.

ASPB President Nicholas Carpita (left) discusses the potential of plant biology to contribute to
the development of biofuels at the Coalition for National Science 
Funding Capitol Hill Exhibition
with Stephen Howell (Director, Division of Molecular 
and Cellular Biosciences), Cora Marrett
(Deputy Director, National Science 
Foundation), and Jane Silverthorne (Deputy Director,
Division of Integrative 
Organismal Systems).

Tags:  nomination  NSF 

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National Academies offers free PDFs

Posted By Adam Fagen, Thursday, June 02, 2011
The U.S. National Academies, which includes the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council, has announced that it will be making PDF copies of all its reports available for free download.

Since 1994, all Academies reports have been available to read for free online on a page-by-page basis.  Many of its titles have also been available for free download worldwide, and all titles free for readers in the developing world.

As of today, however, all reports for which there are PDF versions will be available for free download from the National Academies Press website (

The National Academies publishes more than 200 books per year on a wide range of topics in science, engineering, and health, often offering advice to the government and the scientific community on issues of contemporary concern.

ASPB members may be especially interested in reports from the Board on Life Sciences and the Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Tags:  National Academies 

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AAAS Riley Memorial Lecture to be given by ASPB member Pam Ronald

Posted By Adam Fagen, Wednesday, May 25, 2011
The 2011 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Charles Valentine Riley Memorial Lecture will focus on the role of food and agriculture in providing for a secure food supply and a sustainable economy.

The lecture will be held on the afternoon of Tuesday, June 21, 2011, at AAAS headquarters in Washington, D.C.

ASPB member Pamela C. Ronald, professor of plant pathology at the University of California, Davis, will deliver the keynote address as the 2011 Riley Memorial Lecturer.  Ronald conducts research on the role genes play in plants' response to the environment, and her laboratory has genetically engineered rice for resistance to diseases and flooding. She is co-author of the book Tomorrow's Table: Organic Farming, Genetics, and the Future of Food, which examines the contributions of genetically engineered crops and organic farming to sustainable agriculture, and maintains the Tomorrow's Table blog. The book was praised in Science for its "clear, rational approach that presents a balance that is sorely needed in our increasing polarized world."

Following Ronald's lecture, there will be a moderated discussion moderated by ASPB member Nina V. Federoff, the current president of AAAS, Evan Pugh Professor in the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences at Penn State University and a distinguished visiting professor at King Abdullah University of Science & Technology in Saudi Arabia.  Discussants will include the following:
  • Michael T. Clegg, Donald Bren Professor of Biological Sciences, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, University of California, Irvine; and Foreign Secretary, National Academy of Sciences
  • John D. Hardin, Jr., Owner, Hardin Farms
  • Mark Rosegrant, Director, Environment and Production Technology Division, International Food Policy Research Institute
  • L. Val Giddings, Senior Fellow, Innovation, Research and Development, Information Technology and Innovation Foundation
The event is co-sponsored by the Charles Valentine Riley Memorial Foundation in collaboration with the World Food Prize Foundation.

Additional information about the event, including a form for registration is available at

Tags:  AAAS  event  GMO 

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U.S. immigration adds plant science to fields that qualify for Optional Practical Training extensions

Posted By Adam Fagen, Wednesday, May 18, 2011
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced on May 12 that it has expanded the list of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) degree programs that qualify eligible graduates on student visas for an Optional Practical Training (OPT) extension.  The additions are an effort by the Obama administration to fix problems in the U.S. immigration system to expand access to the nation's pool of talented high skilled graduates in the science and technology fields.

By expanding the list of STEM degrees to include such fields as Plant Science, Horticultural Science, Neuroscience, Medical Informatics, Pharmaceutics and Drug Design, Mathematics and Computer Science, the Obama administration is hoping to address shortages in certain high tech sectors of talented scientists and technology experts-permitting highly skilled foreign graduates who wish to work in their field of study upon graduation and extend their post-graduate training in the United States.

Under the OPT program, foreign students who graduate from U.S. colleges and universities are able to remain in the U.S. and receive training through work experience for up to 12 months. Students who graduate with one of the newly-expanded STEM degrees can remain for an additional 17 months on an OPT STEM extension.

Additional information:

Tags:  DHS  immigration 

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Group of Democratic Senators calls for full AFRI funding

Posted By Adam Fagen, Thursday, May 12, 2011
A group of Democratic senators led by Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) has sent a letter to Senate Appropriations Agriculture Subcommittee Chair Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI) and Ranking Member Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) in support of USDA research funding.  The senators asked that the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) be funded at $324.6 million, the level requested by President Obama for fiscal year (FY) 2012 and a $60 million increase over FY2011 levels. 

"We appreciate the constraints you face in allocating scarce dollars for discretionary programs at USDA," the senators wrote. "However, investing in research is investing in America's future. If America is going to be competitive in the global economy in the coming decades, we have to address long-term challenges by making strong investments in agricultural research today. We urge you to make AFRI a priority as you make your Fiscal Year 2012 appropriations decisions."

The senators especially singled out biomass feedstocks as a critical contribution of USDA research:

We are especially encouraged that AFRI has made biomass feedstock development a high priority for its upcoming grant awards.  Meeting our national Renewable Fuels Standard goal of producing 36 billion gallons of renewable fuels by 2022 will require a substantial investment in the production of high-quality, cost-effective feedstocks for advanced biofuel production.  Developing these feedstocks, and the most sustainable methods of growing them, presents exciting economic development opportunities in America's rural communities, but only if we act today to make the necessary research investments.

Joining Sen. Franken on the letter were Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR).

Additional Information:

Tags:  appropriations  Senate  USDA 

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DOE releases strategic plan

Posted By Adam Fagen, Monday, May 09, 2011
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has issued its 2011 Strategic Plan, which outlines the broad, cross-cutting and collaborative goals that stretch across our complex. It is to serve as a blueprint for DOE to help address the nation’s energy, environmental, and nuclear challenges through transformative science and technology solutions.

The plan outlines that DOE's mission is to ensure America’s security and prosperity by addressing its energy, environmental, and nuclear challenges through transformative science and technology solutions.  The report identifies four overarching goals:
  1. Catalyze the timely, material, and efficient transformation of the nation’s energy system and secure U.S. leadership in clean energy technologies.
  2. Maintain a vibrant U.S. effort in science and engineering as a cornerstone of our economic prosperity with clear leadership in strategic areas.
  3. Enhance nuclear security through defense, nonproliferation, and environmental efforts.
  4. Establish an operational and adaptable framework that combines the best wisdom of all Department stakeholders to maximize mission success.

Among the specific targeted outcomes is "Develop cellulosic ethanol technologies by 2012 that can facilitate mature production costs less than $2.00/gallon."

In the area of bioenergy, DOE will continue to develop biotechnology solutions for energy, the environment, and carbon sequestration, with particular emphasis on Basic science research translates into cost-effective technologies for next-generation production of biofuels.

The Department will support research in the discovery, design, and synthesis of biomimetic and bioinspired functional approaches and energy-conversion processes based on principles and biological concepts. The emphasis is the creation of robust, scalable, energy-relevant processes and systems that work with the extraordinary effectiveness of processes from the biological world.  Areas of particular focus include the following:
  • Understand, control, and build complex hierarchical structures by imitating nature’s self- and directed-assembly approaches.
  • Design and synthesize environmentally adaptive, self-healing multicomponent systems that demonstrate energy conversion and storage capabilities found in nature.
  • Create functional systems with collective properties not achievable by simply summing the individual components.
  • Create biomimetic and/or bioinspired routes for the synthesis of energy-relevant materials.
  • Develop science-driven tools and techniques for the characterization of biomolecular and soft materials.

Genomics-based systems biology research, agronomic strategies, and fundamental understanding of biological and chemical deconstruction of biomass are particularly important elements of these activities. Research supported in this area will have impacts beyond bioenergy, underpinning technologies such as batteries and fuel cells, catalysis, hydrogen generation and storage, and membranes for advanced separation.

The targeted outcome is to apply systems biology approaches by 2015 to create viable biofuels processes and greatly increase

Additional Information:

(Thanks to Toby Smith, Energy Sciences Coalition)

Tags:  DOE 

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On-line consultation on Feed the Future

Posted By Adam Fagen, Friday, May 06, 2011
From May 9-27, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) will be coordinating a major on-line consultation, focusing on the research strategy of the U.S. Government’s new Feed the Future (FTF) Initiative. It will be a chance for researchers and other stakeholders to consider and provide input to the US government on FTF’s research priorities, and to discuss how best to support and engage with this important new program. 

APLU is inviting interested individuals to participate in this consultation. You can register at

Feed the Future is an ambitious new initiative to reduce global hunger and alleviate poverty, using a country-driven approach. It seeks to be a "whole of government" effort, marshaling the significant resources of the United States government in the pursuit of progress on some of the most vexing of all human challenges. A framework research strategy guiding global agricultural research investments under the initiative was released on May 3. The strategy was undertaken to help focus research under the initiative in ways that most effectively advance the goals of reducing poverty and hunger. Research investments in the broad areas of productivity gains, production systems, and nutrition and food safety are emphasized. 

If FTF research investments are to achieve real success, they must draw on the creativity, insights, and energies of the various communities of researchers working on agricultural development and hunger alleviation. To that end, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are partnering with APLU and the Board on International Food and Agricultural Development (BIFAD) to convene a consultative process for engaging the U.S. and international research communities to respond to the strategy and to identify research opportunities that support FTF’s research goals. There will be an open Forum June 21-23 in Washington, DC to discuss and refine the e-consultation outcomes.

Participants in the e-consultation will work to define a set of ten to twenty research challenges under the FTF research strategy. From there, participants will develop sets of actionable research questions and projects that collectively support each challenge and, overall, FTF’s goal In addition, the consultative process will identify opportunities for coordination of efforts through innovative partnerships across institutional and disciplinary boundaries and for enhancement of the impacts of research through human and institutional capacity development.

We seek participation and input from a wide cross-section of researchers concerned with agriculture, hunger alleviation, and human development, and all others interested in commenting on and engaging with FTF’s research strategy. Please also share this invitation with colleagues and networks that you think would like to be involved.

Additional Information:

Tags:  APLU  Feed the Future  USAID  USDA 

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Roger Beachy to step down as NIFA director

Posted By Adam Fagen, Friday, April 29, 2011
A memo to staff at USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) issued today by USDA Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics Catherine Woteki announced that founding NIFA director Roger Beachy (at right) would be stepping down effective May 20, 2011.

The memo said that "We understand that Dr. Beachy’s first priority must be to the needs of his family, and he will be returning to St. Louis, Missouri, to spend more time with his wife, his children and his grandchildren."

Dr. Beachy is a long-term member of ASPB.  He was the founding president of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center.  Earlier in his career, he headed the Division of Plant Biology at The Scripps Research Institute and was on the faculty of Washington University in St. Louis.  His work led to the development of the world's first genetically modified food crop, a variety of tomato that was modified for resistance to virus disease.  His technique to produce virus resistance in tomatoes has been replicated by researchers around the world to produce many types of plants with resistance to a number of different virus diseases.

Dr. Beachy is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and in 2001 received the Wolf Prize in Agriculture.  He is a fellow in the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Academy of Microbiology, the National Academy of Science, India, and the Academy of Science of St. Louis.  He was honored with ASPB's Dennis R. Hoagland Award in 2000.

USDA is initiating an "aggressive search" to identify and recruit a distinguished scientist to serve as the next NIFA director.  Dr. Chavonda Jacobs-Young (at right), director of the Office of the Chief Scientist, has been named as acting director of NIFA.

Additional information:

Tags:  USDA 

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