ASPB Science Policy in the Time of COVID-19

After cancelling its plans to meet in person in Washington, DC, as it typically does each spring, ASPB’s Science Policy Committee (SPC) convened virtually on March 23, 2020 to address one of its core activities: engaging with representatives of the federal agencies and other pertinent organizations. (Another core activity – convening meetings with Congressional staff to advocate for specific programs and funding levels – is still happening, but online by phone and email.)

Washington Update

The meeting began with a “Washington Update” from ASPB’s lobbyists at Lewis-Burke Associates (LBA). This March, at the front of mind was understanding the Federal government’s response to COVID-19. ASPB will be sharing weekly updates from LBA (see news and updates) with specific and timely information about changing deadlines for federal grants, policy changes, and other relevant news from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Department of Energy (DOE), US Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Policy updates are also published regularly on the ASPB Blog and curated into an article in the bimonthly ASPB News.

National Science Foundation

Our first meeting guest was Dr. Joanne Tornow, Assistant Director for Biology at the NSF. Dr. Tornow presented information about the “ideas” that inform science policy priorities at NSF. An overview of NSF priorities is available here; of particular interest to our discussion was “Advancing the American Bioeconomy.” The Bioeconomy is fueled by the “Rules of Life” program (including areas such as epigenetics and predicting phenotypes) and “Industries of the Future” (including biotechnology and artificial intelligence).

An area of great interest to NSF is developing programs to support integration across the NSF Biology Directorate, and to reduce fragmentation. In 2019, NSF announced two programs to promote this integration: Reintegrating Biology and the Biology Integration Institute (see BII Request for Proposals).

Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR)

Dr. Sally Rockey, Executive Director of the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) met with the committee to discuss new programs and directions. FFAR has recently published their strategic plan, which includes updates to their fundraising approach. FFAR was authorized in the 2014 US Farm Bill with an initial $200,000,000 investment to support the agricultural research community through public-private partnerships. This is particularly important for the agriculture community, which Dr. Rockey described as being fragmented between companies, universities, and government labs; FFAR aims to bring these groups together by matching research funds from the private sector. Recently, the FFAR Fellows program was launched for early career researchers which provides a very broad training experience with a focus on professional development. ASPB members are among the awardees.

Department of Energy

Dr. Sharlene Weatherwax, Associate Director of Science, discussed new research areas in Biological and Environmental Research (BER). New opportunities in this area include synthetic biology and opportunities that leverage resources and tools from across the broader biology community. Current Funding Opportunity Announcements (FOA) include:

  • DE-FOA-9992214 Systems Biology Research to Advance Sustainable Bioenergy Crop Development
  • DE-FOA-0002217 Computational Tool Development for Integrative Systems Biology Data Analysis
  • DE-FOA-0002173 Early Career Research Program – Fundamental systems biology-driven research on the roles of microbiomes in biogeochemical cycling process

Preapplications are required for these programs, so please check the BER FOA website for the most up-to-date information.


The final guest was Dr. Scott Angle, Director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) at the USDA. The committee discussed how COVID-19 will be impacting agricultural research and training. COVID-19-related Information about NIFA programs can be found on their website.

ASPB’s Science Policy Committee

Science Policy Committee online meeting
An online meeting for the Science Policy Committee (March 2020).

As pictured, the SPC members are:

  • Nathan Springer, Chair (2016-2020)
  • Rob Last, Immediate Past-President (2019-2020)
  • Jeffrey Chen (2017-2021)
  • Shandrea Stallworth, Early Career Rep (2017-2020)
  • Karen Koch (2019-2020)
  • Scott Jackson (2018-2022)
  • Carolyn Lawrence-Dill (2018-2022)
  • Rebecca Bart (2019-2023)
  • Tessa Burch-Smith (2019-2023)

Eve Granatosky, Michael Buse, Victoria Haber, and Bridget Krieger support ASPB’s advocacy efforts at LBA.

The Science Policy Committee is currently chaired by Nathan Spring and is composed of nine ASPB members, including an Early Career Representative. Each year, the current president will appoint new members to the committee – if you have interest in serving on the SPC, please contact ASPB CEO Crispin Taylor at

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