Biological and Environmental Research

The Biological and Environmental Research (BER) program supports scientific research and facilities to achieve a predictive understanding of complex biological, earth, and environmental systems with the aim of advancing the nation’s energy and infrastructure security. The program seeks to discover the underlying biology of plants and microbes as they respond to and modify their environments. This knowledge enables the reengineering of microbes and plants for energy and other applications. BER research also advances understanding of the dynamic processes needed to model the Earth system, including atmospheric, land masses, ocean, sea ice, and subsurface processes.

Over the last three decades, BER has transformed biological and Earth system science. We helped map the human genome and lay the foundation for modern biotechnology. We pioneered the initial research on atmospheric and ocean circulation that eventually led to climate and Earth system models. In the last decade, BER research has made considerable advances in biology underpinning the production of biofuels and bioproducts from renewable biomass, spearheaded progress in genome sequencing and genomic science, and strengthened the predictive capabilities of ecosystem and global scale models using the world’s fastest computers.

BER supports three DOE Office of Science user facilities, the Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) user facility, Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory (EMSL), and Joint Genome Institute (JGI). These facilities house unique world-class scientific instruments and capabilities that are available to the entire research community on a competitive, peer review basis. Additionally, four DOE Bioenergy Research Centers were established to pursue innovative early-stage research on bio-based products, clean energy, and next-generation bioenergy technologies.

Learn more about the BER mission and how we support it here.

BER Science Highlights

Trees Consider the Climate When Choosing Their Partners
June 24, 2019
Forest trees establish symbiotic relationships with microbes depending on how the climate determines the rate of soil organic matter decomposition.
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Microbes Retain Toxicity Tolerance After They Escape Toxic Elements
June 14, 2019
Ground water microbes living outside a contaminated area contain mobile genetic elements that provide them resistance to heavy metals.
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Watching the Rain in Climate Models
June 6, 2019
Scientists use supercomputers to determine how reliably a popular Earth system model represents precipitation regionally and globally.
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Simulations Shed Light on Self-Healing Cement
June 6, 2019
A first-of-its-kind computer simulation reveals self-healing cement for geothermal and oil and gas wells performs better than originally thought.
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Some Bacteria Make a Big Difference in Dryland Wheat Farming
March 21, 2019
Even a single species of bacteria can positively affect soils and plants, improving and even enabling agriculture in semi-arid areas.
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Sampling Guts of Live Moose to Understand How They Break Down Biomass
March 14, 2019
First-of-a-kind study advances understanding of microbial and viral communities involved in biomass breakdown.
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How Injected Microbes Persist in Hydraulically Fractured Shale
March 14, 2019
Scientists reveal the importance of an amino acid that supplies energy and protection for microbial communities deep underground.
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Fitting a Square Peg in a Round Hole: The Surprising Structure of Uranium Bound in Hematite
March 14, 2019
An atomic view of how toxic uranium binds to iron minerals in the environment enables better predictions of its behavior.
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Feeding Sugars to Algae Makes Them Fat
March 1, 2019
Adding glucose to a green microalga culture induces accumulation of fatty acids and other valuable bioproducts.
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A Simplified Way to Predict the Function of Microbial Communities
February 28, 2019
A pioneering study on how microbes work could advance models of frequently flooded soil’s elements and nutrients.
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BER Program News

Department of Energy Announces $3 Million for Research on Watersheds
Funding totals $3 million in Fiscal Year 2019 dollars for projects lasting three years in duration.
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Berkeley Lab Celebrates the Integrative Genomics Building
The building will be a step forward in Berkeley Lab’s vision to expand the footprint of the biological and environmental sciences on the main campus.
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Yield Stability Analysis Reveals Sources of Large-scale Nitrogen Loss from the US Midwest
Matching fertilizer rates to field production levels could reduce nitrogen loss with no impact on crop yield.
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Scientists Hit Pay Dirt with New Microbial Research Technique
A better method for studying microbes in the soil will help scientists understand large-scale environmental cycles.
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Human Encroachment Alters Air Quality Over Amazon Rainforest
Plumes of air pollution generated from a rapidly expanding city within the Amazon rainforest are wafting hundreds of miles and degrading air quality i
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Department of Energy Announces $5.6 Million for Ecological Research
Seven Projects Aim to Improve Predictive Understanding of Subsurface Systems
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Department of Energy Announces $13 Million for Atmospheric Research
New projects in atmospheric sciences part of an overall effort to improve models for predicting weather and climate.
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Excessive Rainfall as Damaging to Corn Yield as Extreme Heat, Drought
Scientists have linked historical crop insurance, climate, soil and corn yield data to quantify the effects of excessive rainfall on corn yield.
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PNNL, OHSU Work Together to Reveal Key Brain Switch
The structure of a fundamental electrical switch in the brain has been revealed, thanks to PNNL researchers working together with counterparts at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU). PNNL scientists Adam Swensen and Wei-Jun Qian performed mass spectrometry experiments that allowed the team to reconstruct the molecular structure of the AMPA receptor much more accurately than was possible with the cryo-EM data alone.
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BER Subprograms

Biological Systems Science

Biological Systems Science

Research to understand complex interactions that determine the function of biological systems, from single cells to plants.

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Earth and Environmental System Sciences

Earth and Environmental System Sciences

Research on atmosphere, land, and water components and interactions that help inform regional and global earth system modeling.

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DOE Bioenergy Research Centers

DOE Bioenergy Research Centers

Supports fundamental research addressing the challenge of converting renewable plant biomass (non-food) to biofuels and bioproducts.

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BER DOE Office of Science User Facilities

Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM)

Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM)

Observation network for understanding cloud and aerosol interactions with the Earth’s surface.

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Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory (EMSL)

Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory (EMSL)

Houses more than 50 premier instruments and modeling resources that can be accessed to understand the physical, chemical, and cellular processes of biological and environmental systems.

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Joint Genome Institute

Joint Genome Institute

Provides the research community with high throughput DNA sequencing, synthesis and analysis of plants, microorganisms and microbiomes in support of BER biological systems science research.

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Contact Information

Biological and Environmental Research
U.S. Department of Energy
SC-23/Germantown Building
1000 Independence Avenue., SW
Washington, DC 20585
P: (301) 903 - 3251
F: (301) 903 - 5051
E: Email Us