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Press Releases :: September 10, 2009

Subcommittee Reviews the Biological Research of DOE’s BER and NP programs

(Washington, DC) – Today, the House Committee on Science and Technology’s Energy and Environment Subcommittee held a hearing to review the biological research activities of the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science’s Biological and Environmental Research (BER) and Nuclear Physics (NP) programs. Specifically, Subcommittee Members questioned witnesses about how this biological research coincides with DOE’s other programs and the other federal agencies’ research on energy, environmental, and medical applications.

“The Department of Energy’s role in examining biological processes is not always well understood nor is it appreciated, but it dates back to 1946. At that time we needed to learn more about the effects that radiation could have on people from the use of either atomic weapons or nuclear power. This required bringing together the best and brightest researchers from both physical and medical sciences to study the issue,” said Subcommittee Chairman Brian Baird (D-WA). “Over the years, DOE developed unique engineering capabilities within its national laboratories that allowed the Department to quickly catalogue the building blocks of living organisms.”

Most notably, DOE’s BER program and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) initiated the Human Genome Project in 1990. A genome is a complete genetic sequence of the DNA of an organism. In 2003, two years ahead of schedule, the Human Genome Project led to the determination of a human’s complete DNA sequence. This project provided the public and private sectors new opportunities for discovering and understanding the fundamental principles of life.

“Today, the Office of Science focuses these capabilities on developing next-generation biofuels, finding new ways to sequester carbon, and on cleaning up the legacy waste from our nuclear weapons complex. In addition, DOE’s nuclear physics program has recently shouldered the responsibility of providing critical non-commercial isotopes for cancer treatments as well as other research applications,” added Baird. “I look forward to learning more about the progress DOE is making in working with NIH and other agencies to meet the scientific and medical communities’ needs.”

Bioenergy is now the primary focus of BER. In 2007, BER established three Bioenergy Research Centers after a competitive selection process to achieve significant breakthroughs in making the production of plant-fiber based biofuels commercially viable on a national scale. These three centers include – the BioEnergy Science Center (BESC) led by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC) led by the University of Wisconsin, Madison in close partnership with Michigan State University, and the Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) led by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The Centers consist of multidisciplinary teams of scientists from 18 universities, seven DOE national laboratories, two nonprofit organizations, and a range of private companies.

For more information, visit the Committee’s website.



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