April 23, 2003
ROCKVILLE, MD -- Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham announced today that the department will increase its funding to the Institute for Biological Energy Alternatives (IBEA) for research to better understand microbial communities and to develop new, biological methods to capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and to produce hydrogen.
The department will fund IBEA, headed by J. Craig Venter, Ph.D., $3 million per year for the next three years. This is in addition to the current three-year Department of Energy (DOE) grant to IBEA of $1 million per year.
"Craig Venter is a pioneer who led the private sector effort in genomic research of the 20th century and we are excited that he is focusing his techniques on America's energy challenges of the 21st century," Secretary Abraham said. "These additional funds may lead to the development of new methods for carbon sequestration or alternative energy production and will work to engineer a particular type of microbe that could produce hydrogen, an important component in our clean energy future."
Secretary Abraham made remarks to IBEA researchers and staff from the affiliate organization, The Institute for Genomics Research (TIGR). TIGR will collaborate with IBEA on the work.
With the new funds, IBEA scientists will determine the genetic sequences of all the microorganisms occurring in a natural microbial community. Microbes are prevalent in the environment -- there can be many thousands of different organisms in a teaspoon of soil or water -- but the Sargasso Sea is an environment with a manageable number of microbes, and researchers have initially begun studies on samples from there. The studies will enable scientists to discover biochemical pathways and organisms that may lead to the development of new methods for carbon sequestration or alternative energy production.
IBEA's research is related to the department's Genomes to Life program managed by DOE's Office of Science. The Genomes to Life program aims to use the department's unique computational capabilities and research facilities to understand the activities of single-cell organisms on three levels: the proteins and multi-molecular machines that perform most of the cell's work; the gene regulatory networks that control these processes; and microbial associations or communities in which groups of different microbes carry out fundamental functions in nature. Once researchers understand how life functions at the microbial level, they hope to use the capabilities of these organisms to help meet many of our national challenges in energy and the environment. The program will combine research in biology, engineering and computation with the development of novel facilities for high-throughput biology projects. More information on the Genomes to Life program is on the Web at www.genomestolife.org.
IBEA, a nonprofit scientific research institution, is seeking ways to use biology and genetics to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide that is released into the atmosphere by current sources of energy such as petroleum and coal. It also will seek to produce clean fuels. More information on IBEA is available at www.venterinstitute.org.
Jill Vieth (DOE), 202/586-4940
Jeff Sherwood (DOE), 202/586-5806
Heather Kowalski (IBEA), 301/309-3444
Release No. PR-03-086