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Biology Lobbying Group Calls for More Genomics Funding

WASHINGTON, Jan 24 – In order to realize the promise of genomics, the government will have to step up funding, the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology said Wednesday in a statement upon the release of their budgetary recommendations for fiscal year 2002.

FASEB was scheduled to hold a press conference via telephone on Wednesday at 10 am EST to discuss the recommendations. The recommendations are designed to influence lawmakers and the new administration, which is expected to begin working on the fiscal year 2002 budget over the next few weeks.

Although the National Institutes of Health’s budget is expected to increase about 15% a year for the next few years, FASEB, a lobbying organization that represents more than 60,000 scientists and 21 biology organizations, said in its report that biological research at the US Department of Agriculture and the Department of Energy are suffering from a lack of resources.

FASEB warned that as a result of under-funding, the USDA has had to curtail fundamental and applied research in agriculture, including agriculturally important plant, animal, and microbial genomics. The organization noted that the USDA’s National Research Initiative Competitive Grants program was established with a $500 million budget for annual expenditure, but appropriations have never exceeded $120 million. For 2001, the program's budget was cut by 11.5 percent. In addition, facilities and administration expenses covered by the grants are capped by congressional mandate at 19 percent, less than half that allowed by NIH and NSF.

FASEB recommended increasing the budget for the grants program to $200 million for 2002, as a first step toward reaching its originally authorized level.

FASEB also recommended stepping up the DOE Office of Science’s budget by 15 percent annually for the next five years. The organization said that, after accounting for inflation, the DOE’s budget for scientific research has remained essentially unchanged since 1993.

Some $50 million of the recommended increase should be directed next year to the DOE's ambitious new " Bringing the Genome to Life" research program in systems biology, while another $10 million should go toward supporting the synchrotron facilities used in x-ray crystallography studies of protein and nucleic acid structures, the organization advised.

The report also recommended continuing the growth of the NIH budget with an appropriation of $23.7 billion in fiscal year 2002, a 16.2 percent increase from 2001.

FASEB also said the government should make cutting-edge technologies more available to the NIH by doubling the funding for its development and establishing shared facilities for maximum cost-effectiveness.

Recognizing the importance of bioinformatics in making use of genome data, FASEB recommended expanding funding for work in this field and for providing increased support for bioinformatics graduate programs.

The report applauded the role of the National Science Foundation in fostering basic research, especially at academic institutions. FASEB supports efforts to double NSF's budget as well, beginning with an increase of at least 15 percent in 2002. A 15 percent increase would bring the NSF budget to $5.1 billion. In addition, the report recommended significantly increasing the average size and duration of NSF grants, to reduce administrative costs and enhance stability for researchers. Genomics work funded by the NSF includes the recently-announced sequencing of the Arabidopsis genome.

The report noted the increased commitment of the National Air and Space Administration to work in the life sciences, such as studying genes in Arabidopsis that control how the plant's roots respond to gravity. It recommended an increase of $50 million next year for NASA's new Biology Research Enterprise, to be used for investigator-initiated, peer-reviewed research opportunities. Some $168 million was appropriated for the agency's biology research programs in 2001.

For the Department of Veteran's Affairs, where researchers employ genomics in studies of Alzheimer's disease, alcoholism and other chronic conditions, FASEB recommended an increase of $44 million to $395 million for 2002. In addition, the report advised the Department of Defense to continue genomics collaborations, such as the one it has with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to study likely bioterrorism pathogens.

 

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