BERAC Meeting Minutes November 30-December 1, 1999


Biological and Environmental Research Advisory Committee (BERAC) Meeting
Office of Biological and Environmental Research
Office of Science
U.S. Department of Energy


DATE: November 30 – December 1, 1999

LOCATION: American Geophysical Union, Washington, D.C. The meeting was announced in the Federal Register for November 30-December 1, 1999 (on November 10, 1999, Volume 64, Number 217, Page 61321).

PARTICIPANTS: A list of attendees showing all BERAC members who were present, guests, and participating Department of Energy officials and staff is attached.

November 30, 1999

Member Introductions

This was the first meeting for 9 new BERAC members:

  • Dr. David Burgess, Boston College
  • Dr. Carlos Bustamante, University of California, Berkeley
  • Dr. Curt Civin, The Johns Hopkins Hospital
  • Dr. Claire Fraser, The Institute for Genomic Research
  • Dr. Richard Lerner, The Scripps Research Institute
  • Dr. Roger McClellan, Chemical Industry Institute of Toxicology (emeritus
  • Dr. Lisa Stubbs, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
  • Dr. James Tiedje, Michigan State University
  • Dr. Barbara Wold, California Industry Institute of Technology

Susan Beard, DOE Office of General Counsel

Restrictions on full-time Federal employees and non-Federal employees who are members of federal advisory committees were described. It is essential that committee members should recuse themselves from committee activities for which they have financial conflicts of interest. BERAC members were encouraged to contact Susan directly with individual questions or concerns.

Keith Hodgson, Chair, BERAC

How BERAC does its job and how BERAC meetings are run:

  • Meetings and meeting outcomes are not scripted
  • Much of BERAC’s work is done by subcommittees made up of BERAC members and/or outside scientists. Some BERAC subcommittees are standing groups that work over time. Others are formed for specific, single tasks. Most subcommittee work is done in response to specific charges from the Director of the Office of Science.
  • Reports, recommendations, and other products produced by subcommittees are discussed and approved/disapproved by BERAC.
  • BERAC meetings are generally organized to include a science talk related to topics of interest to the BER program and an after dinner talk on a topic of more general interest such as science policy or education.
  • BERAC members are encouraged to offer suggestions for improving the organization or the focus of BERAC meetings.

The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) has taken a very active role in support of Federal biomedical research programs. FASEB develops and publishes a perspective on the budgets for each Federal agency with a biomedical research program and uses that information to lobby Congress on behalf of these programs. Clearly their efforts and interests are dominated by NIH. If you accept the perspective that research in the physical sciences underpins much of biomedical research, then DOE research, as the single largest supporter of physical sciences R&D in the U.S., plays a key role in the future of biomedical research. FASEB is beginning to recognize that there is a need for a better balance of research budgets across the Federal government. These perspectives emphasize the importance of Office of Science research programs. BERAC needs to consider what it can and should do to help.

BERAC should also be concerned about the balance between the new security concerns at DOE and the need for openness in research. Many of the National Labs have a mix of weapons and open research. BERAC should consider making a statement to the Department on research-related issues it should be concerned about. This includes access of foreign nationals to National Lab facilities since foreign nationals are major contributors in many areas of DNA science.

Gene Bierly - Report on Global Change Research Program

A one-day retreat/workshop was recently held to discuss challenges for the Global Change Research Program. Ten to twelve years of research have yielded many significant accomplishments, though the program has not done a very good job of getting the word out about its successes. There have also been a number of significant changes in the organization and leadership of the U.S. Global Change Research Program that could impact the coordination and effectiveness of interagency efforts.

Issues that were discussed included

  • the National Assessment
  • the need for increased ecosystems research
  • potential limits on our ability to predict climate
  • the status of ocean circulation experiments
  • strategies for reorganizing/revitalizing the U.S. Global Change Research Program
  • opportunities and need for scientists to publicize the successes of the program
  • the need for new observations of terrestrial and ocean environments
  • the role and value of NASA satellites
  • the continued need to attract and train good people to the field.

Warren Washington will be talking about modeling activities that are a key part of this program.

Warren Washington – Science Talk on Climate Modeling

Dr. Washington’s contributions to global change research were acknowledged. He gave an overview of

  • climate modeling including discussions of global trends in CO2
  • anomalies in mean global surface temperatures
  • current thoughts on the ozone problem
  • the current status of polar and sea ice
  • expected changes in the earth’s chemistry
  • the importance of DOE’s ARM program in understanding the role of clouds in determining climate
  • examples of climate model simulations.

Dr. Martha Krebs, Director, Office of Science

It is important for the six Office Science advisory committees to have an overall perspective on the issues within the Office so that they can better understand each other and interact.

The spallation neutron source is an important project for the entire office. Doing a good job on this project is critical to all Office of Science programs. We have the tradition and capability in our various science communities to build these large class machine. This is the first billion dollar machine since the demise of the SSC. We have taken steps to improve the management of this project. We have been challenged by Congress to demonstrate that we can deliver.

We have been given a new responsibility for the field staff. Changes here are producing great deal of stress in the field. There is about an $8 million reduction in field organization budgets that we are managing in a different way than we would have a few years ago since we now have direct responsibility. The Secretary’s reorganization, put in place in April of 99, recognizes that there is a tight coupling between program offices and field organization in the execution of our programs. We now have responsibility for Chicago, Oakland, and Oak Ridge. The only science lab that is not in our line is PNNL at Richland. We have an agreement with EM so that we can maintain the right kind of relationship with PNNL.

DOE Strategic Plan and R&D Portfolio - Goals Reach across all SC organizations. It also tracks FY 1999 and FY 2000 budget elements. It is available on the Web. This document will continue to warrant attention from the advisory committees.

Key issues:

  • Management
  • Expanding and continuing the role of the Office of Science
  • Leadership in scientific computation

Ari Patrinos, Associate Director, Office of Biological and Environmental Research (BER)

Dr. Patrinos provided an overview of the current status of BER programs including:

  • Human genome research – DNA sequencing at the Joint Genome Institute, impacts of private sector sequencing efforts, the Ethical Legal and Social Issues Program
  • Microbial genome research – recent accomplishments, new sequencing targets, functional genomics, changes in the ‘tree of life’ and the promise of things to come
  • Climate Change Technology Initiative – creation of two new centers for oceans research at LLNL/LBNL for terrestrial research at ORNL/ANL/PNNL
  • DOE Low Dose Radiation Research Program - an SC/EM partnership, thanks to David Thomassen
  • Structural Biology – program is undergoing considerable transition, research programs are being recompeted and redirected to focus on experimental and computational structural biology
  • Protecting Human Subjects at the Department of Energy – an ongoing responsibility for the Department, thanks to Susan Rose
  • Medical Sciences – Congressional earmarks continue to be inserted into this program, these require considerable staff effort to manage and complete the required paperwork, many of the FY 1999 earmarks have been held back by the Secretary, these have ended up to be a considerable source of stress, thanks to Prem Srivastava
  • Boron Neutron Capture Therapy – more later from Mike Viola
  • Biomedical engineering – more later, Mike Viola is very excited by this program, we are turning some of the promise of the laboratories into reality
  • Environmental Processes - some growth in the program especially in the climate and hydrology programs
  • Global Change Research – ARM program , how much radiation do clouds absorb, collecting data from three major sites around the globe, new NASA satellite will make ARM data even more relevant
  • Climate and climate variability modeling for global and regional climate prediction
  • Environmental Meteorology - has received considerable attention in light of the clean air act and new regulations for particulates, research may shed light on this continuing controversy
  • Carbon Cycle Research - Global Terrestrial Ecosystem Carbon Model - has been a very successful program that has been replicated at many places in the world, enhancing the chances of carbon emissions and carbon emission controls
  • AmeriFlux Sites
  • Integrated Assessment - we don’t provide the assessment, but we provide the tools necessary
  • Information and Integration
  • Environmental Remediation – the NABIR program is maturing and is about to go out to the field, a field research center has selected at ORNL pending NEPA approval,we continue to have stewardship for the William R. Wiley Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory (EMSL)

BNCT Subcommittee Report – presented by Mike Viola for the subcommittee

The report of the subcommittee was presented and approved. It is available on the BERAC web site. The report is quite critical of BNCT clinical trials and of BNCT-related accelerator research.

Elbert Branscomb, Director DOE Joint Genome Institute

Dr. Branscomb provided an update of the goals and progress of the JGI. The JGI anticipates completing its share of the draft human DNA sequence in the early spring of 2000. The sequence being generated by the JGI is unique in the G5 community and is of very high quality and informational content because of the we are sequencing both ends of double stranded plasmids.

The JGI is currently sequencing at more than 2 million bases of good draft sequence a day leading to the identification of up to 100 genes a day. Money is going into the NIH genome program very rapidly right now. The JGI has developed a cooperative agreement with Stanford University for the finishing step of DNA sequencing. This will be very important for the JGI.

New Charge – Future of genomics research – Ari Patrinos

The field of genomics is ready for a paradigm shift. This is a time of many opportunities for new initiatives and new directions. We are asking BERAC to give us advice on new opportunities and directions that take advantage of advances in genomics, structural genomics, functional genomics, imaging, and computation the capabilities of the national laboratories and that advances BER and DOE mission needs. Dr. Gesteland has agreed to chair this subcommittee. A draft report is needed before the next BERAC meeting in April 2000.

Public Comment - none

Meeting adjourned at 5:45 p.m.

December 1, 1999

Dan Drell – Microbial Genomics and ELSI updates

  • Currently coordinating an interagency dialogue on microbial genomics. A meeting of agency representatives on December 22 will deal with data release policies associated with microbial genomic DNA sequencing projects.
  • Update on the Ethical, Legal, and Social Issues (ELSI) program. The ELSI program has been supporting research since 1991. Much of the ELSI program research has focused on genetic privacy and genetic education. This past September the ELSI program organized a workshop to discuss future opportunities for ELSI program research given current progress and changes in the genome program. We plan to use the results of this workshop to prepare the next ELSI program solicitation early in 2000. One challenge we have is to attract new researchers and research communities to the ELSI program.

Anna Palmisano – NABIR update

  • More than 60 percent of DOE sites have groundwater contamination. A central goal of the program is to provide fundamental science of radionuclides and metals in the subsurface. The program supports both laboratory and field based studies on intrinsic and accelerated bioremediation. We are also trying to identify societal issues and concerns associated with the development and potential use of biological solutions for cleaning up the environment.
  • NABIR currently has an annual budget of approximately $20 million. The program supports 68 projects across the eight scientific elements. It is managed as a team with program managers from two divisions in BER. The program has co-leaders: Anna Palmisano and John Houghton.
  • The Field Research Center (FRC) selection process is nearing completion. A site at Oak Ridge’s Bear Creek Valley has been recommended. The purpose of the FRC is to provide access to environmental samples for NABIR scientists and the ability to conduct short-term, in-situ experiments,
  • BERAC’s NABIR subcommittee will be meeting early in 2000 under the leadership of Dr. Tjiede.

John Houghton - Carbon Management update

  • During the past year a report on carbon management has been published and a large workshop was held.
  • BER has recently funded two carbon sequestration centers for marine sequestration research (LLNL and LBNL) and terrestrial sequestration (PNNL, ANL and ORNL) following a competitive peer review
  • DOE funds for carbon sequestration research goes to BER, BES and Fossil Energy
  • Four microbes that play a role in global carbon cycles have also been selected for sequencing

Jean Futrelle – The Environmental Molecular Science Laboratory (EMSL) update

  • EMSL is the culmination of Dr. Wiley’s vision of developing a multipurpose user facility that provides "synergism between the physical, mathematical and life sciences"
  • EMSL users are more like collaborators with EMSL scientific staff
  • EMSL has had a total of 834 different users to date. Approcximately 45% of EMSL’s users don’t leave their home laboratory by use EMSL’s facilities remotely via the internet.
  • One exciting opportunity is using mass spectrometry to characterize all the proteins being expressed, the proteome, in a cell.
  • EMSL’s scientific computing facility makes awards to external users for periods of up to three years as part of the Molecular Science Computing Facility Grand Challenges.
  • EMSL’s greatest challenges are to maintain state of the art facilities/capabilities (including computer upgrades, instrument upgrades, unique instrumentation, and expansion of the collaboratory) to recruit/retain scientific staff and to recruit/retain scientific users.

Dean Cole - Biomedical Engineering update

  • BER is a small player in this field
  • BER has partnered with several Federal agencies through NIH’s Bioengineering Consortium (BECON)
  • Mike Viola is full time member of this committee
  • We also have a full time senior scientist, Dick Swaja from Oak Ridge National Lab, spending a year at NIH in Dr. Wendy Baldwin’s office working on a variety of programs, including BECON
  • DOE and its labs have a unique role to play in biomedical engineering especially since NIH institutes focus on specific disease applications while DOE labs have unique technologies that can be applied to many cutting edge research challenges
  • We are also a member of the Multi-Agency Tissue Engineering Working group (MATES)
  • BER put together a biomedical engineering expo at the Forrestal building in the spring of 1999 that highlighted ongoing efforts across the national labs. A second expo is currently planned for 2000.
  • The BER program had a solicitation for pilot projects in 1999 focused on developing a lab-based research program. We expected 50 proposals and received 90. The pilot projects are listed on the BER web site.
  • The program will have a contractor’s workshop in Albuquerque in the spring of 2000 that will include a minisymposium on a topic like artificial sight. We believe that the lab have unique capabilities to work in this area. We would also like to expose the laboratory scientists to more industrial and medical experts

Mike Viola - New Directions for BER Structural Biology Research

  • BER is restructuring the experimental part of its Structural Biology Program
  • The BER program currently has the following investments:
    • Facilities - $16.5M
    • Instrumentation Research and Development - $1.5M
    • Biological Research - $8M
    • Computational Biological Research - $2M
  • BER previously had the lead in many of these areas but other agencies, especially NIH, are increasing their focused investments in this area
  • We spent a lot of time articulating the BER program and developing an integrated path forward
  • BER held a series of workshops with program staff and lab scientists to discuss and identify issues and needs that could be used to shape a unique DOE program that:
    • is innovative and has broad biological implications
    • is consistent with the DOE mission
    • leverages the scientific resources (personnel and facilities) of the DOE labs
    • is no redundant or ancillary to the larger NIH program
  • The BER program will focus on proteins involved in (1) DNA damage recognition and repair, with links to the low dose radiation research program, and (2) bioremediation of metals and radionuclides, with links to BER’s Natural and Accelerated Bioremediation Research Program and DOE’s Environemtnal Management Science Program
  • The new program will have a solicitation in 2000 with approximately $9.5 million in funds available for new research
  • Determining the high-resolution three-dimensional structure of proteins is only one way to solving how proteins function in living systems. Since proteins do not act alone or statically in cells, the program will emphasize protein-protein interactions and the dynamic behavior of proteins in cells.

David Thomassen - Low Dose Radiation Research Program update

  • Program was initiated two years to support basic research that will contribute to the develop of radiation risk policy
  • Of specific interest to Senator Domenici
  • BER committed to spend $10 million in FY 2000 and received an appropriation of $17.5 million.
  • Why now?
    • 50+ year BER history of doing radiation biology research
    • current standards are set from exposures at higher doses
    • wealth of new information available especially in genomics
    • new instrumentation available with potential for impact on this field
  • Solicitation this past spring, with DOE’s Office of Environmental Management, based on the 10 year program plan developed by BERAC
  • Key research areas:
    • Radiation-induced versus normal oxidative damage?
    • Recognition and repair of low dose radiation damage?
    • Low-dose threshold effects?
    • Genetic susceptibility to low dose radiation?
  • Communication of research results is a key component of the program - to the public, to scientists, to regulators, to legislators
  • Just held a program workshop with over 100 people, including funded scientists, agency representatives, members of public interest groups – the workshop encouraged everyone to think about the rationale for the research program as more than just outstanding research
  • We have a program web site with information on the funded research, on radiation biology and on radiation issues – see
  • We have also established a BERAC subcommittee to serve as a program advisory committee

Public Comment:

  • Dr. Lucian Wielopolski (Brookhaven National Lab) – the BER program should emphasize education concerns related to low doses of exposure to radiation and atmosphere/soil interactions as part of carbon cycle research

Meeting Adjourned at 11:20 a.m.


U.S. Department of Energy
Office of Science
Biological and Environmental Research Advisory Committee (BERAC) Meeting
November 30 - December 1, 1999
American Geophysical Union
2000 Florida Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20009

List of Attendees present for all or a portion of the meeting

BERAC Members

Dr. Eugene W. Bierly, American Geophysical Union
Dr. David R. Burgess, Boston College
Dr. Carlos J. Bustamante, University of California, Berkeley
Dr. Curt Civin, The Johns Hopkins Hospital
Dr. Claire M. Fraser, The Institute for Genomic Research
Dr. Raymond F. Gesteland, University of Utah
Dr. Jonathan Greer, Abbott Laboratories
Dr. Richard E. Hallgren, American Meteorology Society
Dr. Willard W. Harrison, University of Florida
Dr. Keith O. Hodgson, Stanford University
Roger O, McClellan, DVM, Chemical Industry Institute of Toxicology
Dr. Louis F. Pitelka, University of Maryland
Dr. Alan Rabson, National Cancer Institute
Dr. Janel L. Smith, Purdue University
Dr. Lisa Stubbs, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
Dr. James M. Tiedje, Michigan State University
Dr. Warren Washington, National Center for Atmospheric Research
Dr. Barbara Wold, California Institute of Technology

U.S. Department of Energy Staff

Martha Krebs, Director, Office of Science (SC)
Peggy Burris, SC
Ari Patrinos, Associate Director, Office of Biological and Environmental Research (OBER)/SC
David Thomassen, Designated Federal Officer, BERAC, OBER/SC
Shirley Derflinger, Designated Federal Officer, BERAC, OBER/SC
Michael Riches, OBER/SC
Marvin Frazier, OBER/SC
Joanne Corcoran, OBER/SC
Daniel Drell, OBER/SC
Arthur Katz, OBER/SC
Marvin Stodolsky, OBER/SC
Mike Teresinski, OBER/SC
Michael Viola, OBER/SC
Prem Srivastava, OBER/SC
Dean Cole, OBER/SC
Peter Kirchner, OBER/SC
Larry James, OBER/SC
Jerry Elwood, OBER/SC
Paul Bayer, OBER/SC
Roger Dahlman, OBER/SC
Wanda Ferrell, OBER/SC
John Houghton, OBER/SC
Anna Palmisano, OBER/SC
Rickey Petty, OBER/SC
Bill Valdez, SC
Mike Osinski, SC
Thom Dunning, Jr., SC
Ed Oliver, SC
Greg Dilworth, SC
Susan Beard, GC
Mohandas Bhat, EH
Donald Lentzen, EH
Bob Marlay, PO
Owen Lowe, NE
Justine Alchowiak, EM
Elbert Branscomb, Joint Genome Institute, DOE
Marianne Schiffer, Argonne National Laboratory
David Moncton, Argonne National Laboratory
Frank Fradin, Argonne National Laboratory
Teresa Fryberger, Brookhaven National Laboratory
Nora Volkow, Brookhaven National Laboratory
Creighton Wirick, Brookhaven National Laboratory
Margaret Bogosian, Brookhaven National Laboratory
Lucian Wielopolski, Brookhaven National Laboratory
Jeffrey Coderre, Brookhaven National Laboratory
Carl W. Anderson, Brookhaven National Laboratory
Jean Futrell, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
Steve Hildebrand, Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Michelle Buchanan, Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Dave Reichle, Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Thom Mason, Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Betty Mansfield, Human Genome News, Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Gary Jacobs, Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Richard Swaja, Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Liyuan Liang, Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Rob Johnson, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Kristin Balder-Froid, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Michael Banda, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Ed Hildebrand, Los Alamos National Laboratory
Julie Erickson, Richland Operations Office

Other Federal Agency Attendees

Michael Holland, Office of Management and Budget
Thomas Seed, AFRRI
Peter Bond, Office of Science and Technology Policy
Ghassem Asrar, NASA/HQ
Jean McEwen, NIH/NHGRI


W. F. Harris, University of Tennessee
Murray Schulman
Michelle Broido, University of Pittsburgh
Joseph Alexander, NRC Space Studies Board
Pamela Moore, Capital Publications
Tarun Reddy, Inside Energy
Mathew Quint, Embassy of Australia
Jack Bagley, Battelle
Joanne Hopkins, SRI