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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Policy Archives available under Group Pages.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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 (http://www.nap.edu/).
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.
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.
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.
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).
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
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:
Catalyze the timely, material, and efficient transformation of the nation’s energy system and secure U.S. leadership in clean energy technologies.
Maintain a vibrant U.S. effort in science and engineering as a cornerstone of our economic prosperity with clear leadership in strategic areas.
Enhance nuclear security through defense, nonproliferation, and environmental efforts.
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
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.
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.
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.
Non-competing (i.e., continuing) research grants from NIH institutes and centers other than the National Cancer Institute (NCI) are reduced 1% below the FY 2010 award level. NCI research grants will be reduced by 3%. The cuts do not affect Career Awards, SBIR/STTRs, and Ruth L. Kirschstein-National Research Service Award (NRSA) Individual Fellowships & Institutional Training Grants.
It is estimated that NIH will support approximately 9,050 new and competing Research Project Grants (RPGs).
The news is not all down, however. NRSA awards for undergraduate, predoctoral, and postdoctoral trainees will see a 2% increase in stipends. Specifically, predoctoral stipends will increase to $21,180 and beginning postdoc stipends will increase to $37,740.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has established a working group that will examine the future of the biomedical research workforce in the United States. The working group will make recommendations to the Advisory Committee to the Director to ensure a diverse and sustainable biomedical and behavioral research workforce.
Princeton University President Shirley Tilghman was previously announced as a chair of the working group; the other members were announced today:
Shirley Tilghman(co-chair), President, Princeton University
Sally Rockey(co-chair), Deputy Director for Extramural Research, NIH
Sandra Degen, Vice President for Research, University of Cincinnati
Laura Forese, Chief Operating Officer, Chief Medical Officer, and Senior Vice President, New York Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center
Freeman Hrabowski, President, University of Maryland, Baltimore County
James Jackson, Professor of Psychology and Director, Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan
Leemor Joshua-Tor, Professor and Dean, Watson School of Biological Sciences, and HHMI Investigator, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
Richard Lifton, HHMI Investigator, Yale School of Medicine
Garry Neil, Corporate Vice President, Corporate Office of Science & Technology, Johnson & Johnson
Naomi Rosenberg, Dean, Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences, Tufts University School of Medicine
Bruce A. Weinberg, Professor, John Glenn School of Public Affairs, The Ohio State University
Keith Yamamoto, Executive Vice Dean, School of Medicine, Professor of Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology, and Vice Chancellor of Research, University of California, San Francisco
Details about the budget deal worked out in the last hours before a planned federal government shutdown last Friday are beginning to emerge.
And although the deal for the fiscal year (FY) 2011 budget cuts $38.5 billion from the FY 2010 spending levels that the government had been operating under, most of the science agencies are spared big cuts. First, all non-defense discretionary spending would be reduced by 0.2% across the board. Here's the rundown from the agencies of most interest to ASPB members:
Department of Agriculture
The National Institute of Food and Agriculture would receive XXX, a reduction of $126 million below FY 2010 levels, with the cuts mostly in earmarked programs. The competitive grants program, the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative would receive $265 million, which is actually a slightly increase (~1%) over FY 2010 levels.
The Agricultural Research Service would receive $1.135 billion, a reduction of $44 million from FY 2010 levels.
Department of Energy
The Department of Energy's Office of Science would receive $4.884 billion in the final FY 2011 appropriations bill, a reduction of $25 million below the FY 2010 enacted level.
This is $866 million above the level proposed earlier by the House.
The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) would receive $180 million.
National Institutes of Health (NIH)
NIH would receive $30.7 billion in the final FY 2011 appropriations bill. This represents a cut of $260 million (0.8%) from FY 2010 levels. $210 million would be cut from research funding and $50 million from buildings and facilities at NIH's Bethesda, MD, campus.
This is much less than the $1.6 billion cut originally passed by the House.
National Science Foundation (NSF)
NSF would receive $6.874 billion, which is $53 million (0.8%) below the FY 2010 level. The Research & Related Activities account would be funded at $5.575 billion, which is $43 million (0.8%) below FY 2010, and the Education & Human Resources account would be funded at $862.8 million, which is $10 million (1.2%) below FY 2010 levels.
It's Friday afternoon and there's no agreement yet on a Continuing Resolution or final fiscal year 2011 budget. That means that all non-essential federal government services and offices are scheduled to shut down at midnight tonight.
Several federal agencies have issued guidance on operations during a funding hiatus:
The U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry will hold its first field hearing on the next Farm Bill on April 9, 2011, on the campus of Michigan State University (MSU) in Lansing. The
hearing, "Opportunities for Growth: Michigan and the 2012 Farm Bill,"
will focus on the upcoming reauthorization of the Farm Bill, examining
agriculture as well as energy, conservation, rural development, research,
forestry and nutrition policies that affect Michigan. The Farm Bill provides oversight for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The general public may attend and watch the hearing (RSVP information below) and can also submit written testimony which will be included in the official record of the hearing. Three copies of your testimony can be submitted at the hearing or can be sent to the Committee no later than April 16, 2011. You may also submit questions for possible consideration by the panel members during a limited question and answer period before April 7, 2011. Send your testimony or questions to email@example.com or to US Senate Committee on Agriculture Nutrition and Forestry, 328A Russell Senate Office Bldg, Washington, D.C. 20510.
For up-to-date information on the hearing and Farm Bill process, you can visit the Senate Agriculture Committee website at ag.senate.gov.
To RSVP for the hearing, contact the Agriculture Committee Office at 202-224-2035 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.