AIBS Selects Emory Graduate Student for 2016 Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) has selected the winner of the 2016 AIBS Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award. Julia Omotade is a Ph.D. candidate in the Biochemistry, Cellular and Developmental Biology program at Emory University.

“AIBS is proud to recognize Ms. Omotade’s notable accomplishments as the leader of a successful student movement about the importance of federally supported research,” said AIBS President Dr. Joseph Travis.

Julia Omotade co-founded the Emory Science Advocacy Network, a group that encourages graduate students to advocate for federal research funding. She has helped members of the group meet with their lawmakers in Georgia and in Washington, DC. For the past two years, Julia has co-organized a letter writing campaign, which resulted in more than 600 letters to members of Congress in 2015. Julia has a B.S. in biology from The Catholic University of America. Her Ph.D. research investigates how brain cells communicate during development and adulthood and how this communication is dysregulated in diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

“Currently, the breakthroughs of tomorrow are threatened by dwindling federal investment in research,” said Omotade. “As a graduate student, I have witnessed exciting scientific projects come to a halt because scientists are no longer able to pay for the expensive costs of equipment or highly-trained individuals.”

“Julia joins a distinguished group of Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award winners who have demonstrated great promise in science policy,” said AIBS Interim Co-Executive Director Dr. Robert Gropp. “I am confident that Julia’s participation in Congressional Visits Day will add to her ability to influence science policy throughout her career.”

Since 2003, AIBS has recognized the achievements of biology graduate students who have demonstrated an interest and aptitude for making contributions to science and science policy. AIBS will sponsor Julia’s travel to Washington, DC in April to participate in a training program on communicating with policymakers and a briefing on the federal budget for scientific research. She will also meet with her congressional delegation in conjunction with the annual Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition (BESC) Congressional Visits Day, an event co-organized by AIBS. In addition, Julia will receive a one-year membership in AIBS, which includes a subscription to the scientific journal BioScience.

AIBS will also recognize three additional outstanding leaders as Honorable Mentions. Donald Gibson is pursuing a Ph.D. in Integrative Genetics and Genomics at the University of California, Davis. Kevin Morris is working towards a Ph.D. in biochemistry at Emory University. Caroline Smith is a Ph.D. candidate in behavioral neuroscience at Boston College.

For more information about the Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award, including past recipients, visit http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/resources/EPPLA_Summary.pdf.

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AIBS to Convene Expert Panel on Science of Zika, Potential for Genetic Control

The Zika virus is the most recent example of a virus spreading rapidly around the world with the assistance of an animal vector - in this case the mosquito Aedes. On 15 March 2016, the American Institute of Biological Sciences will convene a meeting of scientific experts to discuss the epidemiology of Zika, the potential for genetic control of the mosquito species that transmit it, and the ethical issues associated with the use of this new biotechnology. This webinar program is free and open to the public, but space is limited and pre-registration is required.

The extraordinarily fast spread of the Zika virus has prompted international concern because of its apparent link to birth defects, including microcephaly, in infants born to infected women. The virus may also be linked to cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome, an immune disorder. The World Health Organization has declared the Zika outbreak an international health emergency.

“The control of this disease, among other emerging diseases, is a challenge as people routinely travel around the world, global commerce provides increased opportunities for animal vectors to move into new environments, and climate change allows species to invade new habitats, often exposing the people in the colonized area to new pathogens,” said Dr. Robert Gropp, AIBS’ Interim Co-Executive Director.

The plants, microbes, and animals with which we share the planet provide us with life sustaining benefits every day. Periodically, however, some of them threaten our wellbeing, such as in the case of Aedes and the Zika virus.

A way to slow the spread of Zika is to control or eliminate Aedes, which is also responsible for the transmission of dengue and chikungunya virus, among other pathogens.

“One line of research to suppress Aedes populations involves a ‘gene drive,’ a genetic construct that once introduced into wild populations is expected to spread rapidly. Such an approach could be designed to bring about a population crash, for example, by distorting the sex ratio in mosquito populations,” said Gropp.

Despite the promise, using gene drives to control wild species raises ethical questions, some of which will be considered in this program. The webinar will also explore aspects of Zika epidemiology and biology.

To register for this program, please visit https://www.aibs.org/events/leadership/using-gene-drives-to-counter-zika.html.

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President Obama Proposes New Funding for Energy Research

The Department of Energy Office of Science is slated to receive a 4.2 percent increase in President Obama’s fiscal year (FY) 2017 budget request. In addition to the discretionary funding request, a proposal will be transmitted to Congress for $100 million in mandatory funding for university grants to be made available through a competitive merit-based review process.

The 2017 budget would provide $7.7 billion for research and development in clean energy technology through the Mission Innovation initiative. The Office of Science will join other federal entities in this commitment to double federal clean energy R&D investments over 5 years; the initiative was announced at the Paris climate summit in 2015.

Funding for Biological and Environmental Research would grow at a rate of 8.7 percent to $661.9 million. New funding of $10 million has been requested for an initiative in microbiome research to understand the fundamental genomic principles governing microbiome interactions in the environment. Increased funding is requested for core research in genomic science, the three Bioenergy Research Centers, and research to understand interdependencies among water, energy, and climate change.

Biological Systems Science would receive $339.1 million, an increase of $44.8 million. Most of the increased funds are requested for genomic sciences, with $28 million increased funding for foundational genomics research and $14.5 million in increased support for the bioenergy research centers. About $1 million of increased funds are being requested for the Joint Genome Institute, whereas no funding is being requested for radiological sciences for FY 2017.

The Climate and Environmental Sciences program would benefit from an increase of $8.1 million, for a total of $322.9 million. The largest increase would be directed to climate and earth system modeling (+$4.9 million) for new research to evaluate additional geographic regions that are poorly represented in the current climate models and are sources of prediction uncertainties. Support for climate model development and validation has been reduced by $5.5 million due to model architecture restructuring and reduced data collection requirements. Increased support of $2.4 million would be directed to the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory to address challenging problems in the biological, environmental, and climate sciences, and to benefit the BRAIN Initiative (see NIH below for more information).

Workforce development for teachers and scientists would grow by $1.4 million. Most of the proposed increase would be directed to undergraduate internships at Department of Energy labs. There would only be a slight increase of $75,000 in funding for graduate research fellowships.

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EPA's Modest Budget Request for FY 2017

Spending at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would increase by 1.6 percent in the proposed budget for FY 2017. Funding for science and technology programs would increase by 2.7 percent to $754.2 million. Research programs on chemical safety and air, climate, and energy would receive the largest increases.

Within the Office of Research and Development, funding for research for sustainable and healthy communities—a program that includes some ecosystem research—would decline to $134.3 million (-4.0 percent).

Research on safe and sustainable water resources would decrease by 1.1 percent. Despite an overall decrease for the program, new funding of $2.2 million would be directed to investigations on the impacts of hydraulic fracturing on water quality and ecosystems. This has been a priority research area within EPA for several years.

EPA would invest $3 million for research on the impacts of clean fuels on the environment, including air, water, and soil quality; ecosystem health and biodiversity; and invasive species.

The agency proposes to eliminate the Beaches Protection Categorical Grants ($9.5 million) and Water Quality Research and Support Grants ($26.8 million). The latter program was congressionally directed and has been put on the chopping block by the administration previously.

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USDA Recommends Doubling of Competitive Research Funding

The proposed discretionary funding for agricultural research, education, and economics is 1.3 percent less than the FY 2016 level. Although this would result in a $37 million cut to discretionary research spending, $325 million in new mandatory spending on science is proposed.

The National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) partners with extramural academic institutions to conduct research, education, and extension activities. NIFA would receive $1.4 billion (+3.6 percent) in discretionary funding. Within NIFA, the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) would receive $375 million for competitive extramural research grants. If the additional $325 million in requested mandatory funding were provided, AFRI would receive a two-fold budget increase over 2016. This funding would support presidential initiatives on water management for food production systems, climate change research, food safety research, and bioenergy.

The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) conducts intramural research in the areas of natural and biological science. It would receive $1.3 billion in FY 2017, a decrease of $100 million. Funding for four of the eight research areas within ARS would be increased, including an additional $10 million for research in support of environmental stewardship. As part of broader government efforts to combat antimicrobial resistance, ARS would receive $22 million in increased funding to study resistance in pathogens of humans and livestock. An additional $19 million has been requested to address the risk of climate change to agriculture by developing more climate resilient agricultural production systems. Ten million in new funding would be provided to address the threat of avian influenza and foreign animal diseases. Another priority research area is improving water management.

The budget requests $94.5 million for investments in the construction and renovation of aging ARS facilities. This is less than half of the funding provided in FY 2016. For the fourth year, the administration is proposing to consolidate STEM fellowship programs from across the government into the Department of Education and NSF. Congress has repeatedly rejected the proposal.

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Forest Service Requests Flat Funding for Research

Funding for Forest Service research is proposed at $292.0 million (+0.3 percent), whereas the agency’s overall budget would be cut by 13.9 percent. Research funding has been depressed since FY 2010, when program funding hit a high of $312 million.

In spite of the modest increase proposed, nearly all Forest Service research program areas are targeted for budget cuts. Six of the seven research areas would be cut by 2 percent, including invasive species; wildlife and fish; water, air, and soil; wildland fire and fuels; resource management and use; and recreation R&D. Conversely, the inventory and monitoring R&D account would be increased by 2 percent to develop new tools to assess the current status and trends of forests.

Nearly half of the program’s funding would be directed to localized research that is targeted to respond to social, economic, and ecological issues in particular regions. Another 25 percent would be allocated to forest inventory and analysis. Ecosystem research on forest disturbances and watersheds would comprise about 16 percent of program funding.

The administration proposes to transfer $3.0 million from Forest and Rangeland Research to the Joint Fire Science Program, however that program would lose $6.9 million that was previously provided from the Wildland Fire Management budget. The Joint Fire Science Program supports extramural funding to develop science and technology tools to reduce hazardous fuels, support resilient landscapes, and mitigate wildfire impacts.

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USGS Continues to Improve Public Access to Science Research

On 8 February, the US Geological Survey (USGS) announced that it would be taking new steps in increasing public access to USGS-funded research and data through a new public access plan. Any research funded by USGS is required to be released to the public no later than 12 months after publication, and includes data used to support studies. Electronic copies of the accepted manuscript or final publication will be available through the USGS Publications Warehouse or in machine-readable form from the USGS Digital Science Catalog. The plan also requires data management plans in new research proposals and grants.

The new plan was developed in response to a February 2013 memorandum from the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) directing federal agencies to increase the public availability of federally funded research findings. The USGS plan was approved by OSTP 8 January, and will go into effect 1 October. Many of the requirements of the plan have already been implemented.

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Evaluating Merit Review Webinar Video Now Online

A recording of the webinar on “Evaluating Merit Review: Predictive Validity of Peer Review Scores” is now available online. Michael Lauer, Deputy Director for Extramural Research at the National Institutes of Health, presented the talk as part of the AIBS Leadership in Biology series. Watch for free at https://www.aibs.org/events/leadership/evaluating-merit-review-predictive-validity-of-peer-review-scores.html.

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Survey on Outliers in Biodiversity Collections

iDigBio’s Outlier Detection and Documentation by Collectors Working Group is conducting a survey related to your experience with “outliers” (or “anomalies” or “oddities”) in biodiversity collections. For this survey, outliers are defined as individual specimens that differ from a previously documented or perceived general norm within a taxon in any biological characteristic such as morphology, anatomy, distribution, behavior, phenology, or ecology.

Responses will be anonymous. Responses are requested by 22 March 2016.

https://ufl.qualtrics.com/jfe1/form/SV_e2nOw1VWI25Rn2B

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Become an Advocate for Science: Join the AIBS Legislative Action Center

Quick, free, easy, effective, impactful! Join the AIBS Legislative Action Center.

The Legislative Action Center is a one-stop shop for learning about and influencing science policy. Through the website, users can contact elected officials and sign-up to interact with lawmakers.

The website offers tools and resources to inform researchers about recent policy developments. The site also announces opportunities to serve on federal advisory boards and to comment on federal regulations.

This new tool is made possible through contributions from the Society for the Study of Evolution, Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography, and the Botanical Society of America.

AIBS and our partner organizations invite scientists and science educators to become policy advocates today. Simply go to policy.aibs.org to get started.

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