About the DOE Biological and Environmental Research Program

The Biological and Environmental Research (BER) program advances fundamental research and scientific user facilities to support Department of Energy (DOE) missions in scientific discovery and innovation, energy security, and environmental responsibility.

BER seeks to understand the biological, biogeochemical, and physical principles needed to predict a continuum of processes occurring across scales, from molecular and genomics-controlled mechanisms at the smallest scales to environmental and Earth system change at the largest scales. Starting with the genetic potential encoded by organisms’ genomes, BER research aims to define the principles underlying the systems biology of plants and microbes as they respond to and modify their environments. Knowledge of these principles is underpinning renewable energy innovations and deeper insights into natural environmental processes. BER also advances understanding of how the Earth’s dynamic, physical, and biogeochemical systems (atmosphere, land, oceans, sea ice, and subsurface) interact and affect future climate and environmental change. This research improves climate model predictions and provides valuable information for energy and resource planning.

Specifically, the BER Genomic Science program (GSP) supports systems and synthetic biology research aimed at identifying the central principles driving the biological systems of microbes, plants, and multispecies communities. GSP research focuses on developing a fundamental understanding of genome biology. This knowledge is needed to design, modify, and optimize plants, microbes, and biomes for beneficial purposes relevant to DOE missions in energy and the environment.

Biological and environmental interactions across scales. (Figure from U.S. DOE. 2015. Office of Biological and Environmental Research Molecular Science Challenges; Workshop Report, DOE/SC-0172. U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science.)

Across the DOE complex is an ever-expanding portfolio of research technologies, methodologies, and instruments. These resources—available at synchrotron and neutron national user facilities operated by DOE’s Office of Basic Energy Sciences—can enable critical experiments needed to understand processes of importance to BER GSP–funded investigators and centers. The spatial and temporal resolutions available from neutron and photon beams enable unprecedented characterization and imaging of interactions among plants, microbes, and the environment. The space and time scales studied range from subnanometer to millimeters and from femtoseconds to seconds. The capabilities to provide molecular fingerprints and mechanistic and dynamic understanding of in situ ecosystem processes impact various BER research interest areas.