BERAC Meeting Minutes April 22-23, 1998


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

DATE: April 27-28, 1998

LOCATION: Marriott Washingtonian Center, Gaithersburg, MD. The meeting was announced in the Federal Register for April 10, 1998 (Volume 63, Number 69, Page 17827).

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

Meeting on April 27, 1998

Director's Comments: Dr. Martha Krebs, Director, Office of Energy Research.

Dr. Krebs described ER priorities and budget forecasts for FY 1999 and beyond. The good news for science is that 1999 shows a significant increase. Although this increase is not uniformly distributed, it is important to all programs in DOE.

Facilities: The Spallation Neutron Source (SNS) is an important new facility that continues DOE's responsibility for the development large scale user facilities. The ability to deliver and manage the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is also important to ER's credibility.

The Vice President's Hammer award of excellence for reinventing government will be given to the Environmental Management Science Program team in two weeks. Special recognition goes to Dr. Roland Hirsch for his role in making this program so successful.

Secretarial Priorities: Structure of the R&D Council, Laboratory Operations Board, Departmental Roadmaps, R&D Portfolio, and the 5-year Planning & Budgeting Process. Under Secretary Moniz has selected four areas for Departmental roadmaps: strategic simulation, clean power, robotics, and science facilities.

Managerial Directions within Energy Research:

  • Rethinking ER
  • Integrated Safety Management
  • Improving the Laboratory Research Environment
  • ES&H Benchmarking

Science Themes & Strategic Framework for Energy Research

  • Fueling the Future: science for affordable and clean energy
  • Protecting our Living Planet: energy impacts on people and the biosphere
  • Exploring Matter and Energy: building blocks of atoms and life; and
  • Extraordinary Tools for Extraordinary Science

There are opportunities for BERAC to make contributions to this and related processes, e.g., facilities initiative and roadmapping.

The HFBR at Brookhaven is still shut down. Alterations are being made to support either permanent shutdown or operation. A decision is expected during the next year. There is still opposition to its continued operation from the local congressional delegation.

Associate Director for Science, Office of Science Technology Policy (OSTP): Dr. Artie Bienenstock

OSTP's Mission: (1) advise the President on policy related to science and technology; (2) advise the President on other policy matters where science and/or technology is relevant, and (3) coordinate interagency activities involving science and technology.

OSTP's Science office is split up into four divisions: environment (Rosina Bierbaum), national security and international affairs (Kerri-Ann Jones), science (Artie Bienenstock), and technology (Duncan Moore).

OSTP governing principles: (1) technology and the underlying science are responsible for over one half of the productivity increases over past 50 years, and (2) interdependence of the sciences.

Research Fund for America plan includes most basic research, some applied research, and about half development activities. The total research plan for FY99 ($31.1B) exceeds current spending caps by $3.6 B. This difference could be paid for by tobacco legislation.

BERAC Human Genome Program Subcommittee - Dr. Ray Gesteland, Chair

The subcommittee has met several times to discuss the new five year plan for the U.S. Human Genome Program being developed by the National Institutes of Health and the DOE. The plan focuses on DNA sequencing, DNA sequencing technology (both incremental improvements to current technology and new technology), functionalizing the genome, informatics, and the Ethical Legal and Societal Issues arising from genome research.

We must resist the temptation to accept current sequencing costs. There is a critical need for continued investments in sequencing technology. Another major need linking current DNA sequencing with the future of biology is approaches to understanding gene function including the leveraged use research using model systems such as mouse, yeast, fly, etc. There are some clear links in this area to other components of the BER program.

Genome Instrumentation Research Subprogram - Dr. Roland Hirsch & Dr. Charles Edmonds

OBER has issued a new solicitation for genome instrumentation. The goals are two-fold -- maintain current progress in DNA sequencing and provide leadership for emerging technologies needed by genomic researchers in the new century. Pre-applications were due in June and formal applications are due in August. Peer review will be complete and new awards will be announced in January 1999. The solicitation is focused on:

  • cost-effective approaches that increase current maximum DNA sequencing read lengths of 800-1000 bases to at least 2000-2500 bases
  • instrumentation that integrates and automates current steps of DNA sequence determination with a priority on miniaturization and micro fabrication
  • approaches that (1) verify the accuracy of a previously determined DNA sequence without having to redetermine its entire sequence, and (2) provide economical error checking and proofreading of newly determined DNA sequence
  • tools that enable the efficient comparison of a known DNA sequence with a related but previously undetermined DNA sequence
  • techniques to determine the functions of large numbers of genes in parallel and that match the speed and volume of DNA sequence determination

Science Talk - "Microbial Genomics: Opportunities for the New Millennium" - Dr. Claire Fraser, Vice President, The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR)

It is hard to appreciate the diversity and impact of microbial life on this planet. If multicellular life were to disappear from this planet it would hardly matter; however, if microbial life were to disappear the impacts would be devastating.

Prior to 1995 when TIGR completed the sequencing of the Haemophilus influenzae genome, the only complete genome that had been sequenced using a shotgun approach was lambda. The issue was more one of informatics and being able to assemble thousands of individual sequences than of sequencing technology. The TIGR assembler allows hundreds or thousands of sequences to be ordered and assembled. Since 1995, TIGR has completed and published the sequences of 14 microbial genomes. Worldwide there are about 60 microbes being sequenced.

Microbial sequencing projects have raised a number of interesting scientific questions and opportunities. Microbial phylogenetic trees have been developed primarily using comparisons of 16s RNA genes in different microbes. However, when genes other than 16s RNA genes are compared one gets very different phylogenetic trees. This is an unresolved issue that raises interesting questions about the evolution of life on earth.

A rapidly growing area in genomics is functional genomics, the study of gene function at the genome level. The growing number of microbial genomic sequences that are available is enabling in silico approaches to functional genomics. TIGR, for example, is studying the function of transporter proteins in biological membranes including comparisons of these molecules across organisms of increasing complexity. As more DNA sequences become available from a wide range of microbes and higher organisms, including humans, these types of analyses and comparisons will become a valuable source of information for understanding gene function.

BER Status Report - Dr. Ari Patrinos, Associate Director, OBER

Human genome program. New five year plan being developed with NIH. The Joint Genome Institute's sequencing factory will open in late 1998 and will be dedicated in January 1999. We continue to interact with the JASONs who provide the genome program with strong a interdisciplinary perspective, helping us with the science at the interfaces between disciplines. There will be another JASON genome study this summer.

Restructuring Biological Research. The low dose initiative is an exciting new program area with political and scientific interest. This program will bring scientific rigor to the important and challenging problem of health risks from low dose radiation exposures. Competitions for new research in this program are ongoing along with competitions in microbial genomics, technology development, and the use of model organisms to understand human gene function.

Structural Biology. DOE, NIH, and NSF are interacting on the status and availability of user facilities for structural biology research. A new BERAC charge asks for advice in this area. John Wooley is taking the lead in developing an interagency structural genomics effort.

Medical Applications. Boron Neutron Capture Therapy - Ludwig Feinendegen is leaving DOE to work at NIH. The Environmental Management Science Program continues to flourish under the BER leadership of Roland Hirsch. The partnerships across ER and with EM in this program have worked very well and are paying dividends. Two new staff (MDs) are being recruited.

Global Change Research. Five thrusts - modeling, carbon cycle, ecological research, observations (with links to NASA launches), and seasonal/interannual and decade to century climate prediction. The national assessment, an interagency effort to determine the regional impacts of climate change, is underway.

Environmental Remediation. A new competition is underway in the Natural and Accelerated Bioremediation Research program.

FY99 Budget. Flat, except for theoretical increases related to the CCTI. Differences between FY98 and FY99 are due to FY98 earmarks which essentially all came with their own funds.

Climate Change Technology Initiative (CCTI). Part of the administration's response to climate change challenge from Kyoto. $300+M FY99 request from DOE. Most of the request was for EE and FE with $11M for BER, and $16M for BES. The BER request included $5M for research on microbes that produce methane and hydrogen, $3M for natural terrestrial carbon sink research, and $3M for ocean carbon cycle research. The reality of seeing new funds is unknown.

Strategic Simulation: DOE-wide FY 2000 program being coordinated by Moniz to take broader advantage of DOE's computational capabilities in the Advanced Strategic Computing Initiative (ASCI) program. Looking for interagency support and partners.

In 2005 the Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will be issued. That means the next deadline for developing and improving models and for analyzing data is 2003, the year when the science for the IPCC Report will effectively be "frozen." It has been estimated that there is a need for a 500-fold increase in computing power for climate prediction by 2003.

BER Outreach:

Ms. Betty Mansfield, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, spoke about the Human Genome Management Information System (HGMIS). There is a need for more program visibility with scientific societies. The message conveyed needs to be simple and easy to understand. Science teacher meetings are one good point of contact with the public. Press contacts need to be cultivated to the point where the press starts coming to you for information.

Mr. Jeff Sherwood, DOE Public Affairs, spoke about the issue of general scientific literacy in the public. What is the reason for wanting program information to be available to the public? News for the sake of news? News for the sake of increasing funding opportunities? Scientists should be encouraged to simply talk with friends and neighbors about their work and about science.

BER Low Dose Effects Program: Dr. David Thomassen, OBER

This is a program to determine the effects of low level exposures. The research goals are to establish the scientific basis for the effects of low-dose exposure with the broad goal of impacting future health risk assessment and risk policy. The program impact: better estimates of health risk and cleanup needs, minimized cleanup costs, and improved human health.

Dr. Hodgson commented on the future of nuclear energy in this country and on a meeting he had about the low dose program with Alex Flint of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water. The meeting was very positive. This new program gave the whole program some visibility. The needs go well beyond epidemiology. Dr. David Jenkins noted that we will need to deal with public fears about radiation. The public doesn't worry about background radiation but it does worry bout what is being "done" to them. We must understand how to respond to public concerns.

New BERAC Charge: Dr. Keith Hodgson

In a letter dated April 23, 1998, Dr. Martha Krebs charged BERAC to develop a plan for a 10-year basic research program that will improve the scientific basis for reducing uncertainties in current risk calculations and for developing new, more reliable risk management methods. A subcommittee will be chaired by Dr. Robert Ullrich, University of Texas Medical Branch. This plan should:

  1. define the scientific and regulatory issues underlying this new research program;
  2. develop a detailed plan for a basic research program to address these issues, including a plan for the synthesis of the disparate research results into a cohesive model for understanding low level effects;
  3. develop a plan, possibly involving an ongoing BERAC subcommittee, for monitoring the progress, direction, and focus of this research program;
  4. recommend a strategy for involving the customers and stakeholders, e.g., regulatory agencies and Congress, in the understanding, interpretation, and planning of this major initiative; and
  5. recommend a process for communicating the results of this program outside the scientific literature.

Wrap-up: The minutes from the December 16-17, 1996, meeting were unanimously approved.

Public Comment: None

Meeting was adjourned at 5:45 p.m.

Meeting on April 28, 1998


Scientific Facilities FY 1999 and Beyond: Needs, Options, Opportunities.


BER has taken a broad, new view of scientific facilities that includes: the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory (EMSL), Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) sites, Natural and Accelerated Bioremediation Research (NABIR) program field research centers (FRCs), the Joint Genome Institute (JGI), the BNL medical research reactor, and experimental stations at synchrotrons and neutron beam sources. These facilities have very different characteristics, e.g., field experimentation on a large scale especially environmental remediation activities (FRCs); multi disciplinary, multi technology facilities targeted at a specific problem, (EMSL); facilities to generate data for world wide use (ARM sites and JGI). Scientific facilities should also include networks of distributed research facilities (ARM sites), facilities that cut across disciplines (center for biological sciences at ORNL including beamlines at the Spallation Neutron Source), and integrated user facilities for experimental field research.

Dr. Krebs - The science facilities roadmap activity was initiated through the LOB in response to the very different levels of thinking/planning coming out of different ER offices. Some groups already had active long range plans. The BER and CTR programs had more extended needs in space and time that led to an expanded view of ER facilities. There may be opportunities to pursue some of these needs with modest budget increases during a 3 to 5 year time frame while other needs will obviously require substantial new resources.

Dr. Knotek - Roadmaps are one method of identifying/characterizing DOE's major corporate commitments. They are important tools for DOE management to think about out year budgets.

Many of these facilities are multi agency in nature. These partnerships are absolutely critical, both across government agencies and internationally. Unfortunately, these partnerships tend to be successful as long as they are convenient or until budgets are cut. At some level, OSTP and OMB involvement will be important for facilitating these types of complex interactions.

Dr. Dehmer, Associate Director, Basic Energy Sciences (BES) - BES has ~$275M in facility operation this year rising to over $300M next year for 17 facilities. Operating these facilities involves planning, construction, and base support for operation including R&D. Lengthy questionnaires go out annually to facilities to monitor performance and useability. Even seemingly simple things like definitions of users can be difficult when remote access is involved since some users may never even physically visit a facility. Facility reviews, like the Birgeneau panel, review overall facility output but not the individual science. It is important to understand the needs of all users. It is also important to find ways of staffing these facilities without burning out the staff scientists.

BER does not have a way to support and maintain national laboratory infrastructure. We need to make sure this is included in the facilities roadmap and the BER processes. We need to explore ways to accommodate both large facilities and institutional capacity in a more expanded way.

New BERAC charge: Structural Biology Needs at Synchrotron Facilities

The rapidly expanding need for synchrotron facilities by the structural biology community, particularly the X-ray crystallographers, has been well documented. There are three outstanding analyses available that provide an almost comprehensive view of the needs and resources. These include: (1) "Report of the Basic Energy Sciences Advisory Committee Panel on DOE Synchrotron Radiation Sources and Science," November 1997; (2) "Structural Biology and Synchrotron Radiation: Evaluation of Resources and Needs," from the Structural Biology Synchrotron Users Organization, December 1997; and (3) "Survey of Structural Biology Beam Lines and Instrumentation at US Synchrotron Centers - Needs and Opportunities for the Future," developed by Keith Hodgson and Eaton Lattman, February 1998.

In order to determine what investment is needed by the Federal government to ensure that legitimate research needs are met, an accurate assessment of existing capabilities and the potential for improvement is required. The Hodgson/Lattman Report is a compendium that provides much of this information, as provided by beam line facility and light source directors. However, the OSTP Working Group felt it would be useful for this estimate to be assessed further by a representative group of users and other informed participants in structural biology at synchrotrons. There also remain some additional questions that need to be addressed.

In response to the request of the OSTP working group and BERAC's sustained interest in this area, Dr. Jonathan Greer's structural biology subcommittee was given the following charge. Given the importance of this information for budgetary and strategic planning purposes, this information is requested no later than August 1998.

  1. Evaluate and broadly prioritize the assessment of potential improvements in beamline access and capabilities outlined in the Hodgson/Lattman Report. What is the appropriate balance between funding of staff and funding of hardware to improve beamline access?
  2. Given the potential investments described in the reports, and any additional ones that may emerge from the subcommittee deliberations, what benefits are likely to be derived? What kinds of experiments require very high brightness? What are the current and future needs at each level of capability?
  3. What is the priority of the investments needed to provide access to more specialized capabilities such as time-resolved structure determination? How is MAD phasing expected to grow in importance?
  4. Should there be opportunities provided for non-standard needs such as quick-response, short-time use? Would a national (or regional), single proposal access system(s) for protein crystallography be beneficial? If so, what are the issues in developing such a system that would help make it successful or limit its effectiveness?
  5. What is required to accommodate the increasing number of non-specialist users at synchrotrons? What expansions and improvements in ancillary facilities (i.e., biology labs, offices, computing and networking, etc.) are needed to accommodate the users? Are their needs in areas like housing, travel support, etc., that are important concerns?
  6. How are the existing resources, and those funded and under development, distributed over proprietary and limited-access beamlines? How should new investments be allocated to produce maximum benefits to the user population?
  7. Other issues as determined by the subcommittee.
Next Meeting: November 5-6, 1998, at the American Geophysical Union in Washington, D.C.

Public Comment: None

Meeting was adjourned at 12:00.


U.S. Department of Energy
Office of Energy Research
Biological and Environmental Research Advisory Committee (BERAC) Meeting
April 27-28, 1998
Marriott Washingtonian Center
9751 Washingtonian Blvd.
Gaithersburg, Maryland

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

BERAC Members

Dr. Eugene W. Bierly, American Geophysical Union
Dr. Mina Bissell, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Dr. E. Morton Bradbury, Los Alamos National Laboratory
Dr. Raymond F. Gesteland, University of Utah
Dr. Jonathan Greer, Abbott Laboratories
Dr. Richard E. Hallgren, American Meteorology Society
Dr. W. Franklin Harris, University of Tennessee
Dr. Willard W. Harrison, University of Florida
Dr. Keith O. Hodgson, Stanford University
Dr. Fern Hunt, National Institute of Standards and Technology
Dr. David Jenkins, The British Petroleum Company
Dr. David T. Kingsbury, Chiron Corporation
Dr. Jill Mesirov, Whitehead Institute
Dr. James W. Mitchell, Lucent Technologies
Dr. Alan Rabson, National Cancer Institute
Dr. Melvin Simon, California Institute of Technology
Dr. Henry Wagner, Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions
Dr. Warren Washington, National Center for Atmospheric Research
Dr. James Wyche, Brown University

U.S. Department of Energy Staff

Dr. Martha Krebs, Director, Office of Energy Research (OER)
Dr. James Decker, Deputy Director, OER

Dr. Ari Patrinos, Associate Director, Office of Biological and Environmental Research (OBER)/OER

Dr. John Wooley, Deputy Associate Director

Mr. Michael Riches, Executive Assistant to the Associate Director

Dr. David Thomassen, Designated Federal Officer, BERAC

Ms. Shirley Derflinger, Designated Federal Officer, BERAC

Ms. Joanne Corcoran

Dr. Daniel Drell

Dr. Arthur Katz

Dr. Marvin Stodolsky

Dr. Roland Hirsch

Dr. Charles Edmonds

Dr. Ludwig Feinendegen

Dr. Prem Srivastava

Dr. Matesh Varma

Dr. Patrick Crowley

Dr. Roger Dahlman

Dr. Wanda Ferrell

Dr. John Houghton

Ms. Bobbi Parra

Mr. Rickey Petty


Mr. Michael Osinski, Office of Resource Management, OER
Dr. Ehsan Khan, Office of Planning and Analysis, OER
Ms. Nona Shepard, Office of Planning and Analysis, OER
Dr. Robert Vallario, Office of Planning and Analysis, OER
Ms. Anne Marie Zerega, Office of Planning and Analysis, OER
Dr. Norton Haberman, Office of Nuclear Energy
Dr. Donald Lentzen, Office of Environment, Safety and Health
Dr. Milton Johnson, Associate Director, Laboratory Operations & ES&H, OER
Dr. David Goldman, Special Assistant to the Director, OER
Dr. William Kirchhoff, Office of Basic Energy Sciences, OER
Dr. William Oosterhuis, Office of Basic Energy Sciences, OER
Dr. Mike Knotek, Office of the Secretary of Energy
Dr. Patricia Dehmer, Associate Director, Office of Basic Energy Sciences, OER

Other Federal Agency Attendees

Ms. Beth Robinson, U.S. Congress
Dr. Karl Koehler, National Institutes of Health
Dr. John Beisler, National Institutes of Health
Dr. Judy Vaitukaitis, National Institutes of Health
Dr. John Norvell, National Institutes of Health
Dr. Marvin Cassman, National Institutes of Health
Dr. Gerald Selzer, National Science Foundation
Dr. Paul Gilna, National Science Foundation
Dr. Beverly Hartline, Office of Science and Technology Policy
Dr. Artie Bienenstock, Office of Science and Technology Policy
Ms. Rachel Levinson, Office of Science and Technology Policy


Dr. Eliezer Huberman, Argonne National Laboratory
Dr. Elbert Branscomb, Joint Genome Institute, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
Mr. Colin MacIlwain, Nature Magazine
Dr. Richard Bull, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
Dr. Al Sattelberger, Los Alamos National Laboratory
Dr. Robert Johnson, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Dr. Bill Studier, Brookhaven National Laboratory
Dr. Norman Cutshall, Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Dr. B. Ray Stults, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
Ms. Betty Mansfield, Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Dr. Mark Reeves, Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Dr. Teresa Fryberger, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
Mr. Tarun Reddy, Inside Energy
Dr. George Hendrey, Brookhaven National Laboratory
Ms. Pamela Moore, Capital Publications