June 10, 2016

Washington’s Week in Science

Policy News and Selected Funding Opportunities

Top Stories of the Week

  • Congress: NIH Receives Budget Boost in Senate Appropriations Bill
  • NSF and NASA: Origin of Life Ideas Lab Announced
  • NIH: Genetic Data Commons Established to Support Cancer Moonshot
  • National Research Council: Report on Gene Drives Released
  • Astronomy: LISA European Gravity Wave Observatory Demonstrates Success
  • Ocean Sciences: GAO Releases Statement on Implementation of Ocean Acidification Plan

Congress

The Senate Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee moved forward on an appropriations bill which would provide $34.1 billion in discretionary funding for NIH, a $2 billion increase over current spending, the second major increase in the past two years. Increases were specifically targeted for the Precision Medicine Initiative, Alzheimer’s disease research, the BRAIN initiative, and antibiotic resistance. Every NIH Institute and Center would receive increases under this bill. The legislation received bipartisan support and avoided policy riders and “poison pills.”

The bill also expanded Pell Grants to include year around eligibility. The Subcommittee estimated that by including summer grants, this provision would provide one million students an additional Pell grant of about $1,650 during the 2017-18 school year.
In other action, the

Read More: Science Insider

NSF and NASA

Ideas Labs are structured workshops intended to focus on “grand challenge” problems and the transformative research that can address them. NSF and NASA have jointly announced program solicitation 16-570, an Ideas Lab addressing the Origin of Life. Topical proposals should be related to the theoretical framework for the origin of life, understanding plausible pathways for the origin of life, and how this would affect search for life on other worlds. The workshop seeks to examine and differentiate between two prevalent theories of the prebiotic origin of life (known as the “metabolism first” and “RNA first” models).

Preliminary proposals are due August 5. Those selected for full proposals will be invited by December 19.

Read More: Bright Hub

NIH

A major thrust of the Vice President’s Cancer Moonshot initiative is to promote the free and open exchange of research data.  Now, the Vice President has announced the establishment of a Genetic Data Commons providing the cancer research community with a unified data repository, enabling data sharing across cancer genomic studies through commonly established data protocols and standardized software algorithms.  The new initiative would begin by combining existing NIH data systems, which includes The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA), Therapeutically Applicable Research to Generate Effective Treatments (TARGET), and the Cancer Genome Characterization Initiative (CGCI).

Read More: University of Chicago News

National Research Council

In its continuing review of the technological, ethical and safety issues surrounding genetic modification, the National Research Council has now released a pre-publication draft report entitled, “Gene Drives on the Horizon: Advancing Science, Navigating Uncertainty, and Aligning Research with Public Values.” A “gene drive” is a gene modified such that it affects not only a trait, but the inheritance of that trait in the reproductive process. Thus, a gene drive can affect an entire population within a dozen generations. It has the potential to quickly eradicate the spread of insect carrying diseases such as Zika and malaria. However, the prospect of artificially biasing inheritance on a population wide basis also presents important biosafety and bioethics questions regarding unintended consequences. The emergence of the CRISPER gene editing technology over the past two years has made the prospect of creating a wide range of gene drives an immediate possibility.

The report reviews the current governance for gene drive technology ranging from individual investigator “best practices,” to existing Federal guidelines by NIH and existing Federal regulations, which are overlapping and not clearly assigned. The report also calls attention to the need for an international governance. It concludes “There is insufficient evidence available at this time to support the release of gene-drive modified organisms into the environment. However, the potential benefits of gene drives for basic and applied research are significant and justify proceeding with laboratory research and highly-controlled field trials.”

Read More: New York Times

Astronomy

The recent success of NSF’s Laser Interferometer Gravity-Wave Observatory (LIGO) in observing a gravity wave event has called attention to the longer term opportunities to further develop gravity wave observational capabilities.  The 2010 astronomy and astrophysics decadal survey, New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics, recommended US participation in the European Space Agency’s gravity wave program, beginning with the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA) Pathfinder technology demonstrator launched in December 2015.  A more ambitious mission is planned for around 2034.

Now, the LISA Pathfinder mission has reported success in demonstrating the stability needed for a three spacecraft constellation linked by lasers. NASA has formally committed to partner in the 2034 mission and has formed a community based scientific study team.

Read More: APS News

Ocean Sciences

June 8, designated as World Oceans Day, is an occasion for many organizations to reflect on the issues surrounding the sustainability of our ocean resources.  The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a statement calling attention to the implementation of the Federal Ocean Acidification and Monitoring Act of 2009 which requires NOAA, NASA, NSF and other federal agencies to take steps to address acidification.  Ocean acidification is occurring due to the uptake of increasing levels of carbon dioxide due to human activity such as the burning of fossil fuels.

Although substantial progress has been made by the participating agencies in establishing focused research and monitoring plans, the GAO found the agencies have yet to 1) clearly establish each agency’s role in implementing the research and monitoring plan and outline the budget requirements for implementing the plan; 2) establish an ocean acidification information exchange; and, 3) develop adaptation and mitigation strategies to conserve marine organisms and ecosystems. The GAO has stated completing these actions are necessary to understand the potential impacts of ocean acidification.

Read More: GAO Report, Brookings Brief

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