How CHIPS and Science Act Benefits Microbiology

The Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductor (CHIPS) and Science Act, which President Biden signed into law on August 9, 2022, benefits a wide range of agencies and disciplines, including microbiology. The $280 billion package reauthorizes and supports the federal government’s scientific research and development infrastructure. This legislation allows Congressional appropriators to fund multibillion-dollar budget increases over the next 5 years for key funders of microbial science research, such as the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The legislation also provides guidance for research programs at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

ASM has been working with Congress over the past 2 years to ensure that members’ priorities are front and center, advocating for the Combating Sexual Harassment in Science Act, the Bioeconomy Research and Development Act, the Department of Energy Science for the Future Act and the NSF for the Future Act, which this law helps address. The legislation also directs federal agencies to support research in core areas of interest identified in ASM’s policy principles:

  • Bioenergy, bioproducts and new energy technologies.
  • Research to combat the climate crisis.
  • Foundational functional systems biology research.
  • Microbiome and microbial communities.
  • The development of a national genomic sequencing strategy.

CHIPS and Science Act Expands DEI in STEM Efforts

The CHIPS and Science Act authorizes numerous programs designed to broaden participation and advance diversity, equity and inclusion in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. The legislation also authorizes scholarship and fellowship programs for students pursuing STEM careers and the establishment of new programs that support development of innovative and engaging methods for teaching STEM, including for students in rural areas and from historically underrepresented groups. The CHIPS and Science Act requires federal research agencies to adopt policies to increase the participation of individuals from underrepresented groups in STEM research fields, help women and minority researchers access federal grant funding and combat sexual harassment.

CHIPS and Science Bolsters Microbiology Research at Federal Research Agencies

Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP)

The Bioeconomy Research and Development Act, one of ASM’s top priorities, was included in the new law. It establishes an interagency National Engineering Biology Research and Development Initiative to advance engineering biology research and biomanufacturing research and support research on the ethical, safety, security and other societal implications of engineering biology. The initiative seeks to develop and expand a skilled bioeconomy workforce and accelerate the commercial application of biomanufacturing research. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) will oversee the initiative, which includes programs and activities managed by the federal research agencies, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Defense (DOD).

In addition to the bioeconomy provisions, the CHIPS and Science Act requires OSTP to establish a program of workshops to educate leaders at federal laboratories on methods to reduce implicit bias in the career advancement of academic and federal STEM researchers. OSTP must report to Congress within 4 years on efforts to reduce cultural and institutional barriers at federal research agencies and at research institutions that receive federal funding.

Additionally, the legislation requires OSTP to develop a U.S. Science and Technology Strategy and to conduct a quadrennial review of its strategy.

Key Technology Focus Areas

The law also identifies 10 “key technology focus areas” to help guide federal research and development in fields critical to U.S. national security and economic development:

  1. Artificial intelligence and machine learning.
  2. High-performance computing and advanced hardware and software.
  3. Quantum computing.
  4. Robotics, automation and advanced manufacturing.
  5. Disaster prevention and mitigation.
  6. Advanced communications technology.
  7. Biotechnology and synthetic biology.
  8. Data storage and cybersecurity.
  9. Advanced energy and industrial efficiency.
  10. Advanced materials science.

Under the measure, OSTP must establish an interagency working group to coordinate federal research and innovation efforts within the 10 key technology focus areas, and to work with the new NSF directorate to update this list annually.

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National Science Foundation

At NSF, the law authorizes the Directorate for Technology, Innovation and Partnerships (TIP), a new, innovation-focused directorate to promote solutions to challenges of societal and national importance, including U.S. national security, U.S. industrial productivity, workforce development, climate change and environmental sustainability and inequitable access to education and opportunity. TIP aims to bridge the “valley of death” between basic research and its applications by accelerating key technologies from the laboratory to the market.

The CHIPS and Science Act will build research capacity through grants at institutions that primarily serve students who are underrepresented in science and will ramp up investment in academic institutions in states and territories that receive less federal research funding.

Department of Energy Office of Science

The CHIPS and Science Act provides the first-ever authorization for the DOE Office of Science, which supports large-scale research programs in materials science and engineering, chemical science, physical bioscience and geosciences.

This law codifies the Biological and Environmental Research program and defines the scope of its mission to include research on biological systems science, climate and environmental science, fundamental genomic science and biomolecular characterization and imaging science relevant to the development of new energy technologies.

Specific to microbiology, this authorization lists the development of biomass-based fuels, bioenergy and biobased materials, as well as research to better understand microbial processes impacting the global carbon cycle, the role of microbiota in transforming, immobilizing or removing contaminants from subsurface environments and increase understanding of microbiomes in the environment.

The legislation also supports continued development of high-performance computational approaches and systems to facilitate metadata and metagenomic analysis, develop platforms for open access collaborative science and advance understanding and application of CRISPR and other gene editing tools.

Bioenergy Research Centers

Currently DOE funds 4 Bioenergy Research Centers to conduct fundamental research in plant and microbial systems biology, biological imaging and analysis and genomics. The new law allows DOE to establish 2 additional centers to help accelerate advanced research and development of advanced biofuels, bioenergy or biobased materials, chemicals and products that are produced from a variety of regionally diverse feedstocks; and to facilitate the translation of research results to industry.

Infectious Disease Computer Modeling

The CHIPS and Science Act also directs the Office of Science to work with other federal science agencies to establish a Biological Threat Preparedness Research Initiative to support efforts to prevent, prepare for, predict and respond to infectious diseases using the Office of Science’s analytical resources, user facilities and advanced computational capabilities.

National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

CHIPS and Science doubles the baseline authorization level for NIST, and authorizes and expands NIST’s engineering biology, biomanufacturing and biometrology program. It also directs NIST to develop a greenhouse gas measurement research program in coordination with other federal research agencies.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

CHIPS and Science reauthorizes NASA science activities for the first time since 2017 although it provides no specified authorization levels for NASA programs and activities.

ASM thanks Congress and the Biden Administration for enacting this important legislation.

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