A Call for Microbiologists to Influence Bioeconomy Policy

A Call for Microbiologists to Influence Bioeconomy Policy

Microbiologists are positioned to play a pivotal role in further developing a robust bioeconomy. As policymakers, funders and the public gain awareness of bio-based technologies and products, it is incumbent upon microbiologists to communicate the fundamental role of microbes.

A composite image of solar panels in front of the U.S. Capitol dome.
Microbiologists are positioned to play a pivotal role in further developing a robust bioeconomy through policy.
iStock.com/Douglas Rissing.

Why Should Microbiologists Care About the Bioeconomy?

Microbial processes are the foundation of the bioeconomy. Microbes are the source of industrial catalysts and underpin the production of everything from food to fuel to antimicrobials. As U.S. bioeconomic policy is developed, those policies may impact your work, whether you consider your research part of the bioeconomy, or not. As policymakers aim to carefully balance promotion and protection of the bioeconomy, data security and ever-evolving biological threats, microbiologists should have a seat at the table and play a prominent role in discussing the risks and benefits of biotechnology research, development and applications.

Learn About Social Responsibility and Bioeconomy Policy

A Brief History of Bioeconomy Policy in the U.S.

In contrast to other countries, the U.S. lacks official mechanisms for developing, implementing and evaluating our bioeconomy. Although the Obama Administration published a National Bioeconomy Blueprint in 2012 that identified key strategic objectives, including strengthening research and development, advancing from the lab to the market, reducing regulatory barriers and expanding workforce and partnerships, no implementation plan was developed. Congress has also been slow to act, only recently passing legislation that includes provisions directing the White House to coordinate. With the passage of the CHIPS and Science Act in 2022, which included provisions to support federal investment in the bioeconomy, and the subsequent Executive Order on Advancing Biotechnology and Biomanufacturing Innovation for a Sustainable, Safe and Secure American Bioeconomy, there is renewed hope for increased coordination of federal agency bioeconomic investments and a more strategic approach to the U.S. bioeconomy. Reports released by the Biden Administration and various think tanks echo the 2012 Blueprint, which provides a key opportunity for interested stakeholders from research and industry to make a stronger case for implementation.

In addition to regulatory hurdles and the absence of coordination, federal funding remains a challenge that agencies having the foresight to see where research dollars are needed have tried to fill. While Congress does not have line items targeted to “bioeconomy” in its annual appropriations bills, these executive branch agencies have directed existing agency funds toward bioeconomy-related initiatives. Here are some examples:

  • The Department of Defense is investing $1 billion over 5 years in domestic bioindustrial manufacturing infrastructure, as well as another $270 million for research and development into bio-based materials for defense supply chains.
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released a plan to boost biomass supply chain resiliency, announced a new $500 million grant program to support independent, innovative and sustainable American fertilizer production, and is supporting investments in bioeconomy research and workforce development through the National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative.
  • The National Science Foundation’s BioFoundries initiative anticipates awarding up to $144 million over a 6-year period to enable access to infrastructure and resources to advance biotechnology. The CHIPS and Science Act also codified NSF’s new Technology, Information and Partnerships directorate to advance use-inspired and translational research in all fields of science and engineering.
  • In 2022, the Department of Energy (DOE) committed up to $100 million for research and development into converting biomass to fuels and chemicals, and an additional $60 million to de-risk the scale-up of biotechnology and biomanufacturing. This will lead to commercialization of biorefineries that produce renewable chemicals and fuels. More recently, DOE released a report outlining how the U.S. can sustainably produce more than 1 billion tons of biomass per year.
  • Since 2021, the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy has awarded over $30 million in grants through the Energy and Carbon Optimized Synthesis for the Bioeconomy programs, which promote the use of advanced synthetic biology tools to engineer novel biomass conversion platforms and systems.

How Is ASM Engaging in the Bioeconomy?

A photo illustration showing a plant growing from within a gear assembly.
ASM's Public Policy and Advocacy team continues to advocate for funding for key federal science agencies that fund basic, translational and applied research.
Source: iStock.com/Ivan Bajic.

ASM was a key supporter of provisions in the CHIPS and Science Act that support the bioeconomy and the federal science agencies. We continue to work closely with Congress and the White House to facilitate an open dialogue with the scientific community, forging relationships with the National Security Commission on Biotechnology and connecting microbiologists in industry, academia and government to the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

ASM’s Public Policy and Advocacy team continues to advocate for funding for key federal science agencies that fund basic, translational and applied research. Additionally, the team monitors policy changes and regulatory developments that affect microbiologists and their work.

Five Opportunities for Microbiologists in the Bioeconomy

How can you get involved in the bioeconomy? If your work involves bioproducts, their underlying processes or foundational science, you are already part of it! If you want to do more, we’ve identified several additional opportunities to consider:

1. Become a Microbiology Ambassador

Bioliteracy and public perception of science and technology will make or break the bioeconomy. ASM offers a variety of opportunities to improve your science communication skills and get people excited about the potential for microbe-based innovation!

2. Identify Challenges

The National Security Commission on Emerging Biotechnology is actively seeking input from the scientific community to help them identify biotech products that currently do not have a clear regulatory path to market and what makes them unique compared to products that do have a regulatory path. Now is the time to communicate what an ideal regulatory environment would look like.

3. Prevent Misuse and Promote Biosafety Norms

The responsibility to conduct research ethically and safely lies at all levels and is particularly important in today’s environment. We encourage you to sign up for bioeconomy-related updates from ASM and to weigh in with your expertise when opportunities arise.

4. Shape the Future of Microbiology and Society

Weigh in on ASM’s new strategic framework. As ASM embarks on a transformative journey to a generative, science-centric and globally focused organization that serves the needs of society at large, including the growth of the bioeconomy, we encourage you to send us your feedback.

5. Think Globally!

Microbes know no borders. Policymakers and the public need to see the benefits of international and interdisciplinary collaboration. Consider ways you can engage in global bioeconomy efforts or act as a connector between scientific disciplines.

Interested in connecting with microbiologists who are passionate about the bioeconomy? Attend sessions from the Bioeconomy Curated Itinerary at ASM Microbe 2024.

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Author: Amalia Corby, M.S.

Amalia Corby.
Amalia Corby, M.S., is the Director of Federal Affairs at ASM. She earned her master's degree in epidemiology from the Medical College of Wisconsin and her bachelor's degree in political science and French from the University of Wisconsin.