House Bill Would Cut NSF Funding in 2017

Legislation is moving through the House of Representatives that would reduce funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF) by $57 million in fiscal year 2017. This 0.8 percent cut would be accomplished by slashing more than half of the funding for the Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction account. Consequently, this spending plan would delay by a year the start of design and construction of new regional class research vessels to support ocean research.

Despite the smaller top line number for the agency, NSF Research and Related Activities would receive $46 million in new funding “targeted to programs that foster innovation and U.S. economic competitiveness, including funding for research on advanced manufacturing, physics, mathematics, cybersecurity, neuroscience and STEM education,” according to a committee press release.

The phrase “targeted” increases raised red flags for some, as 2016 appropriations contained restrictions on funding for social science and geoscience research at NSF. The 2017 bill, however, does not contain similar provisions.

Funding for Education and Human Resources at NSF would remain at the 2016 level of $880 million.

The House Appropriations Committee passed the bill on 24 May 2016.

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New Report on Addressing Biological Informatics Workforce Needs

On 26 May 2016, the American Institute of Biological Sciences released the summary report from its December 2015 workshop on the education and training needs for the biological informatics workforce. This report summarizes important discussions and offers 12 recommendations for scientific societies, journal editors, academia, libraries, funders, and the government. Action on these issues is required if we are to ensure the development of the scientific workforce needed to advance interdisciplinary science, drive new discoveries in the life sciences, and provide the scientific insights necessary to solve complex health and environmental problems.

In addition to the American Institute of Biological Sciences, 11 national organizations cosponsored this meeting. Their support is greatly acknowledged, but does not suggest organizational endorsement of the report.

Workshop Sponsors:

  • American Institute of Biological Sciences
  • iDigBio
  • Biodiversity Collections Network
  • Ecological Society of America
  • Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections
  • New Mexico EPSCoR
  • DataONE
  • iPlant Collaborative (now CyVerse)
  • Computational Biology Institute of The George Washington University
  • Kansas University Biodiversity Institute
  • Society for the Study of Evolution
  • Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology

Download a copy of the report at

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Zika Funding Advances in Congress

Both chambers of Congress have approved legislation to address the Zika pandemic. Major differences exist, however, between the House and Senate versions of this legislation.

The Senate approved $1.1 billion in emergency funding, with no requirement to offset the spending from other programs. If enacted, the funds could be used for vaccine development and for mosquito control. The upper chamber also considered—and rejected—an amendment that would have provided more funding, as well as an amendment that would have offset the cost of combating Zika.

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives has voted to appropriate $622 million to fight Zika. These funds would be transferred from an existing account that was created to combat Ebola, as well as from other programs. Republican leaders say that additional funding for Zika will be provided as part of the normal appropriations process.

The Obama Administration had requested $1.9 billion to address Zika.

The House and Senate must now reconcile their differences and pass a compromise bill that the President will sign.

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Experts Conclude GMO Crops Not the Risk Once Feared

A new report from the National Academies of Science finds that genetically modified crops pose no additional risks to human health than conventional crops, nor do genetically engineered crops directly cause environmental problems.

The report drew from a review of more than 900 research and other publications and 700 public comments.

The report found that plants that are genetically engineered to be resistant to herbicides have had greater yields than traditional crops. Herbicide use per hectare of crop initially declined with genetically engineered crops, but herbicide use subsequently crept back up. Additionally, some weeds have evolved resistance to glyphosate herbicide and the composition of weed species has shifted over time. There is “little evidence that agronomic harm had resulted from such shifts in weed species,” the committee concluded.

The story is rosier for crops that are engineered to produce their own insecticide. Bt crops have had fewer losses than conventional crops. The planting of Bt cotton or corn has reduced the abundance of insect-pests regionally, but some secondary insect pests have increased in abundance. In general, Bt crops “tended to result in higher insect biodiversity than planting similar varieties without the Bt trait and using synthetic insecticides.” Moreover, target insects have been slow to evolve resistance to Bt proteins.

Read the full report here.

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White House Releases Big Data Strategic Plan

The White House has released a new plan to expand federally supported big data research and development. “The Federal Big Data Research and Development Strategic Plan” outlines several priorities, ranging from developing policies that promote data sharing to workforce training. Read the plan here.

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USDA Announces $130 million for Agricultural Research, Education, and Extension

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced on 16 May that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) would make $130 million in funding available for research, education, and extension projects. The funds will be available through the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) Foundational Program and will support sustainable, productive, and financially feasible plant and animal production systems.

“Investing in agricultural research ensures that our farmers and ranchers have innovative, safe and sustainable management practices to meet the food needs of the rising world population,” said Secretary Vilsack. “In addition, studies have shown that every dollar invested in agricultural research now returns over $20 to our economy.”

The AFRI Foundational Program funds projects that continue building foundational knowledge in fundamental and applied food and agricultural sciences. Funding for 2016 allocates $33 million for plant health and production and plant products; $31 million for animal health and production and animal products; $19 million for food safety, nutrition, and health; $14 million for bioenergy, natural resources, and environment; $11 million for agriculture systems and technology; and $17 million for and agriculture economics and rural communities.

Two million dollars is also available for addressing emerging issues through the Exploratory Research Program. The Educational Literacy Initiative will support education, training and workforce development through fellowships, research, and extension experiences for undergraduates, and professional development for secondary school teachers.

For more information on the submission process and deadlines is available at

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Scientific Samples Available from Macondo Wellhead Blowout

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are making environmental samples collected in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon explosion available to the scientific community. Samples of water, oil, sediment, and organisms are available. More information about available samples and results of prior analyses are available at To make inquiries or request specific samples, email by 10 June 2016.

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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 to get started.

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