In March 2020, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science (SC) established the National Virtual Biotechnology Laboratory (NVBL). Harnessing capabilities across all 17 DOE national laboratories, NVBL made critical advances by leveraging decades of DOE investments in basic science and experimental user facilities—including x-ray and neutron sources, leadership computing facilities, nanoscale science research centers, and biological characterization laboratories. This foundational research delivered the expertise and capabilities necessary to meet some of the greatest scientific challenges facing the community during the pandemic.

SC’s efforts in Biopreparedness are informed by a Roundtable on Foundational Science for Biopreparedness and Responsewhich was held in March 2022 and included attendees from DOE’s national laboratories, industry, and other governmental agencies.  The roundtable focused on understanding DOE’s unique role in addressing future biological crises, bringing together capabilities in the physical, computational, and biological sciences. Participants identified five priority research opportunities and the specialized cross-cutting capabilities needed to support biopreparedness studies at DOE national user facilities:

  1. Decode Pathogen Emergence, Evolution, and Host-Pathogen Dynamics in Real Time:Discovering novel principles and phenomena that will underpin the development of new analytical approaches to enable understanding of complex biological system interactions that are central to defining pathogen-environment interactions, pathogen evolution, and host-pathogen interactions.
  2. Build a Multiscale Understanding of Biomolecular Interactions to Catalyze Design of Targeted Interventions:Understanding complex biological networks by characterizing molecules within the cell and revealing their interactions with cell states, host physiology, and environmental factors to enable the rapid design of new, highly effective drugs, vaccines, and diagnostic prototypes.
  3. Elucidate Multiscale Ecosystem Complexities for Robust Epidemiological Modeling:  Developing highly integrated approaches in which complex and dynamic ecosystem interactions are captured in a framework of integrated, validated models, across space, time, and disciplines―as well as assimilating real-time heterogeneous data streams to understand and quantify disease impact.
  4. Exploit Biotic-Abiotic Interfaces to Accelerate Design, Discovery, and Manufacturing of Materials for Biopreparedness:  Advancing the ability to understand, predict, and control biotic-abiotic interfaces to develop new technologies for biopreparedness, such as antimicrobial/antiviral materials, wearable sensors for real-time pathogen detection, and next-generation personal protective equipment (PPE).
  5. Accelerate Biopreparedness by Integrating Experimentation, Computing, and Globally Distributed Data:  Accelerating scientific discoveries by combining complex, heterogeneous data with autonomous experiments and real-time simulations, developing new computational frameworks for model development, and devising approaches for securing and curating high-quality data and metadata.

Achieving these research objectives would revolutionize our understanding of the science underlying a range of potential biological events and transform the nation’s ability to prepare for, and respond to, future biological threats. This undertaking would also provide broader insights into fundamental processes in biological systems and develop new characterization and computational approaches that are relevant to DOE’s associated research in renewable energy, climate change, biomanufacturing, and the broader bioeconomy.