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Science Policy Report

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Note: Due to the August recess there will be no SPR on August 12 or 26. The next SPR will be posted on September 9.

Thank you, The Science Policy Office team.

29 July 2015

In This Issue:

Policy News

~ John J. Carty Award for the Advancement of Science
~ Appropriations work ends, but budget deal still distant
~ House approves anti-GMO labeling law
~ Presidential candidates should discuss energy, water and climate change, scientists say
~ NASA and USDA to Sign interagency agreement for earth science and agricultural research
~ House passes California drought bill
~ Bicameral forum on scientific research
~ House Science Committee introduces bill to ensure NSF research advances ‘national interest’

Science News

~ USDA, Microsoft to launch "Innovation Challenge" to address food resiliency
~ Study: Drones beneficial to ag
~ RNA insecticide could target specific pests
~ Why everyone who is sure about a food philosophy is wrong
~ A 'third way' to fight climate change
~ Panel to review WHO finding on cancer link to herbicide
~ Plant defense hormones help sculpt root microbiome
~ Technology and growth spur ag jobs far from the field
~ GMO rice could reduce greenhouse gas emissions, study says

International Corner

~ IDB approves climate-smart agriculture fund
~ Kenya invests in research universities
~ U.S. efforts to address global food insecurity

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities

~ International Research Experiences for Students
~ Research Experiences for Undergraduates
~ Higher Education Multicultural Scholars Program
~ USDA Agricultural Research Grant Funding Programs
~ Biomedical Engineering
~ Biotechnology and Biochemical Engineering
~ Environmental Engineering
~ Environmental Sustainability
~ Nano-Biosensing
~ Environmental Health and Safety of Nanotechnology
~ Energy for Sustainability
~ Illinois Sustainable Agriculture Grant Program

Policy News


(TOP) ~ John J. Carty Award for the Advancement of Science

The John J. Carty Award for the Advancement of Science is awarded every two years, to recognize noteworthy and distinguished accomplishments in any field of science within the National Academy of Science’s charter. This year the awards will be presented in agricultural sciences – the first time since 1984. The award is presented with a medal and a $25,000 prize. Additional information, including past awardees, can be found here.


(TOP) ~ Appropriations work ends, but budget deal still distant

Last week, House and Senate appropriators did something they had not in a half-decade: they finished work on all 12 annual spending bills. While the House has passed half of the spending bills to fund the government, Senate Democrats have refused to allow those bills to come to the floor because of an impasse over spending levels. At this point, a CR is almost inevitable when lawmakers return from their August recess, though how many and for how long, remains to be seen. Despite the gridlock, many on Capitol Hill have been insisting they were looking ahead to longer-term budget talks among Republicans, Democrats and the White House to avert a shutdown and maybe even provide a year or two of relief from defense and domestic spending caps. 


(TOP) ~ House approves anti-GMO labeling law

The U.S. House of Representatives yesterday approved a bill that would block states and localities from requiring mandatory labeling of food made from genetically modified organisms (GMOs). It would also set up a voluntary, national program at the U.S. Department of Agriculture for food producers who want to seek non-GMO certification. Rep. Mike Pompeo, the House bill’s sponsor, and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman, Pat Roberts, are already in talks to get a companion bill through the Senate. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Presidential candidates should discuss energy, water and climate change, scientists say

Thousands of Nobel laureates, college professors, university presidents, writers and lawmakers are urging the 2016 U.S. presidential candidates to take some time to focus on science during this election cycle. More than 44,000 people have signed an online petition pushing for a presidential debate devoted to climate change, energy, health issues and water technology. Advocates hope the science-debate movement will gain more traction this year amid a growing national debate on whether climate change is making natural events, such as the wildfires in California, more frequent and dangerous. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ NASA and USDA to Sign interagency agreement for earth science and agricultural research

NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman and USDA Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden signed an interagency agreement between the two agencies that establishes a framework for enhanced cooperation in the areas of Earth science research, technology, agricultural management, and the application of science data, models and technology in agricultural decision-making. The agencies also seek to better collaborate on education and communication activities that inspire youth in America to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ House passes California drought bill

The House passed a comprehensive California drought bill despite significant Democratic opposition and a looming White House veto threat. The bill promises to divert significant amounts of river water into the Central Valley Project, a federal water management system that services farmers and other users, over the next four years. The main opposition to Rep. David Valadao’s Western Water and American Food Security Act of 2015 is over claims that its proposal to shift more water from rivers to storage and distribution systems for farmers threatens fish protected by the Endangered Species Act. Read the full article. 


(TOP) ~ Bicameral forum on scientific research

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) held a forum to discuss the importance of "strengthening federal investments in scientific research." The forum featured former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and a panel of experts, including Dr. Carol Espy-Wilson of the University of Maryland-College Park; Dr. Aaron Kesselheim of Brigham and Women's Hospital; and Dr. Mariana Mazzucato of the University of Sussex. You can view a video of the event on YouTube here


(TOP) ~ House Science Committee introduces bill to ensure NSF research advances ‘national interest’

Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) introduced the Scientific Research in the National Interest Act, bipartisan legislation to ensure that the National Science Foundation (NSF) is accountable to the taxpayers about how their hard-earned dollars are spent.  The bill requires that each NSF public announcement of a grant award be accompanied by a non-technical explanation of the project’s scientific merits and how it serves the national interest.  This written justification is intended to affirm NSF’s determination that a project is worthy of taxpayer support, based on scientific merit and serves the national interest. Read the full article.

Science News


(TOP) ~ USDA, Microsoft to launch "Innovation Challenge" to address food resiliency

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is partnering with Microsoft to launch the "Innovation Challenge," a contest designed to explore how climate change will impact the United States' food system with the intent of achieving better food resiliency. The challenge invites entrants to develop and publish new applications and tools that can analyze multiple sources of information about the nation's food supply, including key USDA data sets that are now hosted on Microsoft Azure, Microsoft's cloud-computing platform. Learn more about the contest here.


(TOP) ~ Study: Drones beneficial to ag

Farmers can expect to see numerous benefits in several aspects of their operations through the use of drones, a new study shows. The study found potential benefits from drones used to enhance crop scouting and health monitoring, provide three-dimensional terrain mapping, improve irrigation management and assist in crop damage assessment. In particular, the study found drones could help in cutting back on losses from crop insurance fraud. Drones more accurately evaluate crop insurance claims than physical inspections alone by comprehensively imaging the crop area that has been destroyed by hailstorms, floods, or other extreme weather events. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ RNA insecticide could target specific pests

A novel insecticide targets a specific gene in a pest, killing only that bug species on crops and avoiding collateral damage to beneficial insects caused by today’s pesticides. Though the technology is still in its infancy, a Cornell study published online in Pest Management Science describes how the RNA-based insecticide can be effective for at least 28 days when sprayed on a leaf, a finding that dispels previous concerns that the genetic material would quickly degrade in rain and sunlight. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Why everyone who is sure about a food philosophy is wrong

There’s an unbreachable divide between advocates of modern conventional agriculture and, essentially, everyone else, from the mainstream (organic, local, anti-GMO) to the less-so (biodynamics, permaculture, agroforestry). The parties are entrenched, the tone is partisan. But we ought to be able to get along, because all hard-core advocates of this or that food philosophy have two things in common: They’re paying attention, and they’re wrong. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ A 'third way' to fight climate change

Two options for dealing with climate change — reducing greenhouse gas emissions through a global agreement, and geoengineering proposals such as injecting sulfur into the stratosphere — tend to dominate current thinking. There is a “third way” to deal with climate change that is almost entirely neglected in political negotiations and public debate. It involves capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it or using it to create things we need. One biological approach involves converting plant matter into biochar, a process that yields valuable chemicals and fuels at the same time that much of the carbon content is stabilized for storage. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Panel to review WHO finding on cancer link to herbicide

Monsanto Co, whose Roundup product is one of the world's most widely used herbicides, said it has arranged for an outside scientific review of a WHO finding that the weed killer's key ingredient probably causes cancer. The WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer said in March that it had concluded that the ingredient, called glyphosate, was probably carcinogenic after reviewing a range of scientific literature. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Plant defense hormones help sculpt root microbiome

New research begins to explain how plants separate microbes they like from those they don't like. Soil is crowded with bacteria and fungi. Tens of thousands of different species can inhabit the same space, and for a plant that grows in the midst of that community, it's important to know the difference between friend and foe. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Technology and growth spur ag jobs far from the field

Technology has transformed farming, one of the Midwest’s biggest industries, and while fewer people are now needed to actually work the farm field, new types of jobs keep many office workers tied to agriculture. Beyond operating a tractor and a combine, today’s farmers need to manage all kinds of information. From information technology to web development, the skills that have changed our economy have transformed the agriculture industry as well. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ GMO rice could reduce greenhouse gas emissions, study says

Over half the people on the planet eat rice as a staple food. Growing rice emits methane, to the tune of 25 million to 100 million metric tons of methane annually, a notable contribution to human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. As the world’s population grows and needs more food, the problem is likely to get worse, but genetic engineering could help, a new study says. By transferring a barley gene into a rice plant, scientists have created a new variety of rice that produces less methane while still making highly starchy, productive seeds. Read the full article.

International Corner


(TOP) ~ IDB approves climate-smart agriculture fund

The Inter-American Development Bank announced the approval of the $5 million Climate-Smart Agriculture Fund for Latin America and the Caribbean to incentivize private sector companies in the region to invest in projects that increase farmers’ incomes while addressing climate change. The Fund aims to unlock greater private-sector investment in sustainable land use and climate-resilient agribusiness. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Kenya invests in research universities

The government of Kenya has made plans to establish a National Research Fund worth $US 1 billion to support research at universities, and intends to increase investment in R&D up to 2 percent of GDP.  These are parts of a long-term plan to improve the national economy. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ U.S. efforts to address global food insecurity

In 2014, Feed the Future and other U.S. Government programs reached nearly 9 million children in Africa with nutrition interventions, and helped nearly 2.5 million smallholder farmers gain access to new tools or technologies such as high-yielding seeds, fertilizer application, soil conservation and water management according to the 2015 Feed the Future progress report. President Obama also announced several new food security commitments: 1) a $140 million Feed the Future package of investments to support partnerships to produce, market and utilize climate-resilient seeds -- including maize, legumes, rice, and wheat -- to smallholder farmers in 11 African countries; 2) an additional $2 million commitment from USAID, matched by partner DuPont Pioneer, to reach 100,000 Ethiopian farmers by 2018 with new high-yield seed technologies and technical assistance; 3) plans for a commitment of over $150 million in additional funding for Resilience in the Sahel-Enhanced (RISE), a program helping 1.9 million of the most vulnerable people in the Sahel break the cycle of crisis, escape chronic poverty, and reduce the need for humanitarian assistance. Read the full article.

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities


(TOP) ~ International Research Experiences for Students

The International Research Experiences for Students (IRES) program supports development of globally-engaged U.S. science and engineering students capable of performing in an international research environment at the forefront of science and engineering.  The IRES program supports active research participation by students enrolled as undergraduates or graduate students in any of the areas of research funded by the National Science Foundation.  IRES projects involve students in meaningful ways in ongoing research programs or in research projects specifically designed for the IRES program. Deadline, Aug. 18. Read the full announcement.


(TOP) ~ Research Experiences for Undergraduates

The Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program supports active research participation by undergraduate students in any of the areas of research funded by the National Science Foundation. REU projects involve students in meaningful ways in ongoing research programs or in research projects specifically designed for the REU program. This solicitation features two mechanisms for support of student research: (1) REU Sites are based on independent proposals to initiate and conduct projects that engage a number of students in research. REU Sites may be based in a single discipline or academic department or may offer interdisciplinary or multi-department research opportunities with a coherent intellectual theme. Proposals with an international dimension are welcome. (2) REU Supplements may be included as a component of proposals for new or renewal NSF grants or cooperative agreements or may be requested for ongoing NSF-funded research projects. Deadline, Aug. 26. Read the full announcement.


(TOP) ~ Higher Education Multicultural Scholars Program

The purpose of this competitive undergraduate scholarship grant program is to increase the multicultural diversity of the food and agricultural scientific and professional workforce, and advance the educational achievement of all Americans by providing competitive grants to colleges and universities. Deadline, Aug. 31. Read the full announcement.


(TOP) ~ USDA Agricultural Research Grant Funding Programs

The USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture is soliciting topics from eligible commodity board entities (Federal and State-level commodity boards which they are willing to equally co-fund with NIFA. Such topics must relate to the established priority areas of the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grants Program. If proposed topics are accepted for inclusion in an AFRI Requests for Application (RFA) after evaluation by NIFA, they will be incorporated into AFRI competitive grants program RFAs. As a condition of funding grants in a topic, NIFA will require an agreement with the commodity board to provide funds that are equal to the amount NIFA is contributing under the agreed upon topic. Deadline, Sept. 22. Read the full announcement.


(TOP) ~ Biomedical Engineering

The goal of the Biomedical Engineering (BME) program is to provide opportunities to develop novel ideas into discovery-level and transformative projects that integrate engineering and life sciences in solving biomedical problems that serve humanity in the long-term.  BME projects must be at the interface of engineering and life sciences, and advance both engineering and life sciences.  The projects should focus on high impact transformative methods and technologies. Projects should include methods, models and enabling tools of understanding and controlling living systems; fundamental improvements in deriving information from cells, tissues, organs, and organ systems; new approaches to the design of structures and materials for eventual medical use in the long-term; and novel methods for reducing health care costs through new technologies. Deadline, Oct. 1. Read the full announcement.


(TOP) ~ Biotechnology and Biochemical Engineering

The Biotechnology and Biochemical Engineering (BBE) program supports fundamentalengineering research that advances the understanding of cellular and biomolecular processes in engineering biology and eventually leads to the development of enabling technology for advanced manufacturing and/or applications in support of the biopharmaceutical, biotechnology, and bioenergy industries, or with applications in health or the environment.  A quantitative treatment of biological and engineering problems of biological processes is considered vital to successful research projects in the BBE program. Deadline, Oct. 1. Read the full announcement.


(TOP) ~ Environmental Engineering

The goal of the Environmental Engineering program is to encourage transformative research which applies scientific and engineering principles to avoid or minimize solid, liquid, and gaseous discharges, resulting from human activities on land, inland and coastal waters, and air, while promoting resource and energy conservation and recovery.  The program also fosters cutting-edge scientific research for identifying, evaluating, and monitoring the waste assimilative capacity of the natural environment and for removing or reducing contaminants from polluted air, water, and soils. Any proposal investigating sensors, materials or devices that does not integrate these products with an environmental engineering activity or area of research may be returned without review. Topics: 1) Enhancing the availability of high quality water supplies and 2) Fate and transport of contaminants of emerging concern in air, water, and soils. Deadline, Oct. 1. Read the full announcement.


(TOP) ~ Environmental Sustainability

The goal of the Environmental Sustainability program is to promote sustainable engineered systems that support human well-being and that are also compatible with sustaining natural (environmental) systems.  These systems provide ecological services vital for human survival.  Research efforts supported by the program typically consider long time horizons and may incorporate contributions from the social sciences and ethics. The program supports engineering research that seeks to balance society's need to provide ecological protection and maintain stable economic conditions. There are four principal general research areas that are supported: 1) Industrial Ecology; 2) Green Engineering; 3) Ecological Engineering; 4) Earth Systems Engineering. Deadline, Oct. 1. Read the full announcement.


(TOP) ~ Nano-Biosensing

The Nano-Biosensing program supports fundamental engineering research on devices and methods for measurement and quantification of biological analytes. Proposals that incorporate emerging nanotechnology methods are especially encouraged. Areas of interest include: 1) Proposals on multi-purpose sensor platforms that exceed the performance of current state-of-the-art measurement methods; 2) Projects on novel transduction mechanisms and sensor designs suitable for measurement in practical matrix and sample-preparation free approaches. These include error-free detection of pathogens and toxins in food matrices, waterborne pathogens, parasites, toxins, biomarkers in body fluids, and others; 3) Proposals that address highly selective bio-recognition elements which exhibit zero false negative responses; 4) Nano-biosensors that enable measurement of kinetics and thermodynamics of biomolecular interactions in their native states, transmembrane transport, intracellular transport, and other biological phenomena; 5) Fundamental studies on surface functionalization and immobilization of bio-recognition molecules, orientation, activity, stability and effectiveness at biosensor interfaces. Deadline, Oct. 1. Read the full announcement.


(TOP) ~ Environmental Health and Safety of Nanotechnology

The goal of the Nano-Bio Phenomena and Processes in the Environment (NPPE) program is to support research to further fundamental and quantitative understanding of the interactions of biological and ecological media with nanostructured materials and nanosystems, which include one- to three-dimensional nanostructured materials and heterogeneous nano-bio hybrid assemblies.  Such nanostructured materials and systems frequently exhibit novel physical, chemical and biological behavior in living systems and ecological matrices as compared to the bulk scale. This program supports research that explores the interaction of nanoscale materials and systems with both macro and nano-scale systems in biological and environmental media, as well as remediation solutions. Deadline, Oct. 1. Read the full announcement.


(TOP) ~ Energy for Sustainability

The goal of the Energy for Sustainability program is to support fundamental engineering research that will enable innovative processes for the sustainable production of electricity and fuels. Processes for sustainable energy production must be environmentally benign, reduce greenhouse gas production, and utilize renewable resources. Current topics of interest include: 1) Biomass Conversion, Biofuels & Bioenergy; 2) Photovoltaic (PV) Solar Energy; 3) Advanced Batteries for Transportation and Renewable Energy Storage. Deadline, Oct. 1. Read the full announcement.


(TOP) ~ Illinois Sustainable Agriculture Grant Program

The Illinois Department of Agriculture is seeking proposals through its Sustainable Agriculture Grant Program to carry out research, education, and on-farm demonstration projects that address purposes listed in the Sustainable Agriculture Act. The On-Farm Research and Demonstration category is primarily for producers and farmer-based, non-profit organizations. The Outreach and Education category is for projects that will educate the general public about sustainable agriculture and food systems, educate farmers regarding the use of sustainable agriculture practices and alternative marketing strategies, or projects that help build credibility for sustainable agriculture issues. There is also a University Research category. Deadline, Oct. 15. Read the full announcement.

Sources: USDA; NSF; NASA; USAID; AAAS; ScienceInsider; IB Times; The Associated Press; Farm Progress; Cornell News; The Washington Post; The New York Times; Reuters; UNC News; LA Times; Harvest Times; IADB; University World News

Vision: The Societies Washington, DC Science Policy Office (SPO) will advocate the importance and value of the agronomic, crop and soil sciences in developing national science policy and ensuring the necessary public-sector investment in the continued health of the environment for the well being of humanity. The SPO will assimilate, interpret, and disseminate in a timely manner to Society members information about relevant agricultural, natural resources and environmental legislation, rules and regulations under consideration by Congress and the Administration.

This page of the ASA-CSSA-SSSA web site will highlight current news items relevant to Science Policy. It is not an endorsement of any position.

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