Grand Challenges for Biological and Environmental Research: Progress and Future Vision

The Biological and Environmental Research (BER) program within the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science supports research focusing on the interconnections between energy production and the living environment. This fundamental research, conducted at universities, DOE national laboratories, and research institutions across the country, explores organisms and ecosystems that can influence the U.S. energy system and advances understanding of the relationships between energy and environment from local to global scales.

A report from the Biological and Environmental Research Advisory Committee

BER regularly solicits input from the scientific community to help guide its programs. The Biological and Environmental Research Advisory Committee (BERAC) is chartered under the Federal Advisory Committee Act to advise BER on its research portfolio and user facilities. To facilitate a synthesis of community input, the director of DOE’s Office of Science charged BERAC in March 2016 to review research progress and establish and deliver a revised long-term vision for BER by fall 2017. Questions considered during this process included:

  • To what extent has BER successfully met the challenges outlined in the 2010 report, Grand Challenges for Biological and Environmental Research: A Long-Term Vision?
  • What are the greatest scientific challenges that DOE faces in the long term (20-year horizon), and for which of these should BER take primary responsibility?
  • How should DOE position BER to address these challenges?
  • What new tools should be developed to integrate and analyze data from different disciplines?
  • What unique opportunities exist to partner with, or leverage assets from, other programs within the DOE Office of Science?
  • What scientific and technical advances are needed to train the future workforce in integrative science, including complex systems science?

Through a series of BERAC meetings, white papers, and a research community workshop, BERAC addressed these questions, identifying future grand challenges in five areas: biological systems, Earth and environmental systems, microbial to Earth system pathways, energy sustainability, and data analytics and computing. Providing critical support for these challenges are BER user facilities, research infrastructure, and emerging technologies. This report represents a synthesis of these grand challenges and the supporting facilities and technologies.

Publication date: November 2017

Suggested citation for this report: BERAC. 2017. Grand Challenges for Biological and Environmental Research: Progress and Future Vision; A Report from the Biological and Environmental Research Advisory Committee, DOE/SC–0190, BERAC Subcommittee on Grand Research Challenges for Biological and Environmental Research (

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