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Review of the Department of Energy’s Genomics: GTL Program
is playing a lead stewardship role with respect to microbial systems and synthetic biology. In addition, Genomics: GTL’s somewhat unique practice of funding large teams with large grants is essential, and the committee believes that it should be maintained. The Genomics: GTL program has produced valuable scientific results (DOE, 2003, 2004, 2005c), and its planned research promises to generate additional important and useful results. The committee enthusiastically endorses DOE’s plan to enlarge the program to $200 million per year for basic research and further endorses the focus of this research on long-term goals for energy production, environmental remediation, and the mitigation of global climate change. In particular, the committee notes that the ability to produce cost-competitive ethanol from cellulose and hydrogen biophotolytically from water or fermentatively from other carbon substrates, the development of biological solutions to the many recalcitrant problems of legacy wastes, and the attainment of an increased understanding of the role of microbial communities in global carbon cycling to enable the development of carbon-sequestration techniques for addressing climate change are all worthy goals that are highly suitable to DOE’s missions. The committee wholeheartedly supports those goals and the conclusion that the best way to achieve them is through a systems biology approach. We further endorse, with enthusiasm, the ambition of the Genomics: GTL initiative to place DOE at the forefront of systems biology research, as it has been in genomics.
Recommendation 1: The committee recommends that DOE and the nation give high priority to genomics research aimed at achieving DOE’s mission goals.
However, the committee disagrees with the plan to create four facility types—for protein production and characterization, characterizing and imaging biomolecular machines, proteomic analysis of microorganisms, and modeling of microbial community cellular systems—sequentially. In place of that plan, we propose a set of integrated, problem-oriented genomics-enabled facilities that will focus on pioneering technologies rather than duplicating existing technologies.
THE PROPOSED GENOMICS: GTL USER FACILITIES
The committee agrees that the technologies associated with each of the four proposed facilities are critical to providing fundamental and quantitative understanding of biological processes relevant to the long-term missions of DOE and the sought-after predictive capability for biological behaviors at all levels from molecules to whole microorganisms. However, we believe that to advance DOE’s missions and to strengthen the nation’s systems biology research capacity, a