White House launches #Microbiome initiative!

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), in collaboration with Federal agencies and private-sector stakeholders, is announcing a new National Microbiome Initiative (NMI) to foster the integrated study of microbiomes across different ecosystems, and is hosting an event to bring together stakeholders vital to advancing the NMI.

Microbiomes are the communities of microorganisms that live on or in people, plants, soil, oceans, and the atmosphere. Microbiomes maintain healthy function of these diverse ecosystems, influencing human health, climate change, food security, and other factors. Dysfunctional microbiomes are associated with issues including human chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and asthma; local ecological disruptions such as the hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico; and reductions in agricultural productivity. Numerous industrial processes such as biofuel production and food processing depend on healthy microbial communities. Although new technologies have enabled exciting discoveries about the importance of microbiomes, scientists still lack the knowledge and tools to manage microbiomes in a manner that prevents dysfunction or restores healthy function.

The NMI aims to advance understanding of microbiome behavior and enable protection and restoration of healthy microbiome function. In a year-long fact-finding process, scientists from Federal agencies, academia, and the private sector converged on three recommended areas of focus for microbiome science, which are now the goals of the NMI:

  1. Supporting interdisciplinary research to answer fundamental questions about microbiomes in diverse ecosystems.
  2. Developing platform technologies that will generate insights and help share knowledge of microbiomes in diverse ecosystems and enhance access to microbiome data.
  3. Expanding the microbiome workforce through citizen science, public engagement, and educational opportunities.

The NMI builds on strong and ongoing Federal investments in microbiome research, and will launch with a combined Federal agency investment of more than $121 million in Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 and 2017 funding for cross-ecosystem microbiome studies. This includes:

  • The Department of Energy proposes $10 million in new funding in FY 2017 to support collaborative, interdisciplinary research on the microbiome.
  • The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)proposes $12.5 million in new funding over multiple years to expand microbiome research across Earth’s ecosystems and in space.
  • The National Institutes of Health will invest an extra $20 million into microbiome research in grants in FY 2016 and FY 2017 with a particular emphasis on multi-ecosystem comparison studies and investigation into design of new tools to explore and understand microbiomes.
  • The National Science Foundation proposes $16 million in FY 2017 for microbiome research that spans the spectrum of ecosystems, species, and biological scales.
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture proposes more than $15.9 million for FY 2017 to expand computational capacities for microbiome research and human microbiome research through the Agricultural Research Service, and approximately $8 million for FY 2017 to support investigations through the National Institute of Food and Agriculture of the microbiomes of plants, livestock animals, fish, soil, air, and water as they influence food-production systems.

In addition, following OSTP’s national call to action issued in January, more than 100 external institutions are today announcing new efforts to support microbiome science. These include:

  • The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will invest $100 million over 4 years to investigate and develop tools to study human and agricultural microbiomes.
  • JDRF will invest $10 million over 5 years to address microbiome research related to type 1 diabetes.
  • The University of California, San Diego, is investing $12 million in The Center for Microbiome Innovation to enable technology developers to connect with end users.
  • One Codex is launching a public portal for microbiome data, allowing greater access to this data for researchers, clinicians, and other health professionals.
  • The BioCollective, LLC, along with the Health Ministries Network, are investing $250,000 towards building a microbiome data and sample bank, and the engagement of underrepresented groups in microbiome research.
  • The University of Michigan, with support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Procter and Gamble, will invest $3.5 million in the Michigan Microbiome Project to provide new research experiences for undergraduate students.

Click here to learn more about Federal involvement in microbiome research, and about all of the commitments and announcements being made today.

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Obama asks congress for $$$ to fight Zika

President Barack Obama will ask the U.S. Congress for more than $1.8 billion in emergency funds to fight Zika at home and abroad and pursue a vaccine, the White House said on Monday, but he added there is no reason to panic over the mosquito-borne virus.

Zika, spreading rapidly in South and Central America and the Caribbean, has been linked to severe birth defects in Brazil, and public health officials’ concern is focused on pregnant women and women who may become pregnant.

Obama’s request to Congress includes $200 million for research, development and commercialization of new vaccines and diagnostic tests for the virus.

Read more from Reuters here.

10 things to know about the #climate talks in Paris

Today marks the beginning of a two-week long U.N. climate conference in Paris. Despite the recent terrorist attacks, leaders from around the world (including Obama) will be there with the goals of passing world-wide measures to halt climate change. NPR provides a list of 10 things to know about the conference:

1. What’s at stake and why should I care?

It’s no exaggeration to say that what happens in Paris will affect the future of the planet. Greenhouse gas emissions keep going up, and scientists say that continuing with business as usual will produce rapid and devastating warming. This won’t just be bad news for polar bears and beachfront homeowners. Unchecked warming means that dependable food and water supplies could be disrupted, dangerous pathogens could spread to new areas, and rising seas could remake maps. What’s more, extreme weather, plus worse droughts and more fierce wildfires, could become increasingly common. Security experts even worry that scarce and shifting resources could lead to violence.

2. What needs to happen to stop climate change?

Many nations want a Paris agreement that will signal a long-term goal of net zeroemissions in the second half of this century. That doesn’t mean actually producing zero greenhouse gas emissions. But it does mean producing no more than the planet can absorb without raising temperatures. Doing this would mean a dramatic transformation of the world’s entire energy system, turning away from fossil fuels to other options like wind, solar and nuclear power. The task is absolutely staggering — but scientists say it can be done, if the political will is there.

3. Well, is there really the political will to do all this?

U.N. watchers say the stars are aligned like never before. Before the summit, all countries — rich and poor — were asked to come forward with their own voluntary pledges for how they would aid the global fight against climate change. Over 150 countries have submitted national plans to the U.N., and that in and of itself is a huge deal. Some nations say how they’ll cut emissions, while others pledge to do things like preserve forest cover or use more clean energy. Independent experts have calculated that if the world is currently on track for warming of about 4.5 degrees Celsius, these pledges would reduce that to about 2.7 to 3.7 degrees — which is real progress, before the Paris summit even starts.

4. What does the Paris agreement really need to have in it?

The goal of Paris is to produce a short, simple agreement — maybe a dozen pages — that will satisfy nearly 200 nations. Here’s what some observers think are key elements for a credible, ambitious plan forward:

  • Countries need to agree to come back every few years to increase their pledges and keep doing more and more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions
  • The U.N. must have a rigorous system of accountability and transparency to make sure nations will actually keep their promises
  • The poorest countries of the world need support to both adapt to a warming world and to adopt new, low-carbon energy technologies

5. There’s talk of a 2 degree Celsius warming limit. Will this agreement hit that target?

That target comes from an international consensus five years ago, when nations agreed to limit warming to just about 2 degrees Celsius (about 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial times. The thinking was that this would avert the worst effects of climate change. But no one thinks Paris will get the world that far. Instead, the aim of Paris is to come up with an agreement that requires countries to make increasingly ambitious efforts to combat global warming over time, to put the world on track to meet that target in the future.

6. Rich and poor countries are all part of this thing, but will rich countries have to do more?

There’s a lot of tension between the developed world and the developing world when it comes to climate change. Some developing countries such as India say they’re in no position to commit to an absolute reduction in greenhouse gases when they’re trying to bring economic advancement to millions of people who currently live in poverty. They need a supply of energy, and lots of it. What’s more, poorer nations want financial compensation if they’re going to agree to do things like preserve rain forests that will suck up carbon dioxide. They note that developed nations chopped down their own trees long ago and have burned enormous amounts of fossil fuels, but now they’re being told they can’t do the same — so they think the developed world should pay up. So-called “financing” issues will be a major hurdle that negotiators will have to clear in Paris.

7. How is the U.N. trying to make this deal happen?

Basically, for two weeks, they’re going to sequester a bunch of diplomats in a conference center outside Paris. There’s been years of preparation leading up to this conference, and organizers expect tens of thousands of people to gather. Besides the delegates and diplomats there to do the actual wrangling, tons of businesses, activist organizations and scientists will be there as well. While some outside events may be curtailed because of the recent terrorist attacks, the negotiations should go on as scheduled.

8. But, hey, hasn’t the U.N. been trying to rein in greenhouse gas emissions for two decades?

It’s certainly true that past efforts have had serious shortcomings. Top emitters like the United States refused to join the landmark 1997 Kyoto Protocol, and it didn’t include any developing countries, like China. Then the 2009 Copenhagen summit ended in a shambles, with a weak agreement thrown together at the last minute by politicians who didn’t want to leave the talks with nothing. But things are different this time. The fact that almost all countries have submitted voluntary pledges shows that governments feel pressure to participate. Both the United States and China have taken a leadership role. And major public figures like Pope Francis have been urging action, saying there’s a moral duty.

9. What are the big fights going on in the negotiations?

Besides arguing over how much rich nations should pay the poor, there are some nations that simply are not excited about a zero carbon future. Oil- and gas-producing countries, for example, aren’t so keen to leave their valuable assets in the ground. Another hot-button issue is “loss and damage.” That’s the idea that there should be some mechanism to compensate the citizens of places that simply cannot adapt to climate change — for example, small island states that could disappear under rising seas.

10. What if Paris ends with a whimper?

Scientists say that delaying action is just going to make changes harder and more expensive in the future, and that really the world should have started this transformation decades ago. If reliance on fossil fuels continues and produces unrestrained climate change, experts predict dramatic shifts in our familiar maps and weather patterns. Computer simulations show that New York would have the climate of Miami, and melting ice would flood major cities around the world. Poor countries would be the hardest hit by a changing world, as they have the fewest resources to adapt.

President Obama White House announces #CleanPowerPlan to #ActOnClimate!!! #video

Yesterday, President Obama’s White House announced the Clean Power Plan to Act on Climate change!!

Today, as part of the President’s plan to cut carbon pollution, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized the first-ever national limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants, the single-largest source of carbon pollution in the United States. The Clean Power Plan is an historic step in the fight against climate change. It sets flexible and achievable standards to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030, while creating tens of thousands of jobs.