Today at Berkeley Lab

Planning for Proposed BioEPIC Research Facility Gets Under Way

The Bayview site at Berkeley Lab, once home of the Bevatron accelerator, will soon be home to the Integrative Genomics Building, seen here now under construction, and would house the proposed BioEPIC research facility.

Conceptual planning has begun for the Biological and Environmental Program Integration Center (BioEPIC), a unique scientific facility proposed for the Bayview site at Berkeley Lab, following approval of the mission need by the Department of Energy in late March.

BioEPIC would house one-of-a-kind experimental capabilities to advance DOE’s mission objectives in energy and environmental science. The facility would integrate existing research now being done in the Lab’s Biosciences Area (BSA) and the Earth and Environmental Sciences Area (EESA).

It also would enable emerging scientific approaches and tools that examine and manipulate biological and environmental processes across scales of space and time, from molecules to ecosystems and from nanoseconds to decades, capabilities that are not available now.

“We are excited to start the conceptual design of what would be a truly unique national facility,” said Berkeley Lab Director Mike Witherell. “BioEPIC would integrate many of the exceptional, existing scientific capabilities from across our Lab and allow us to transform the current understanding of biological-environmental systems.”

Future science conducted jointly by BSA and EESA will address critical gaps in understanding how genomics shape microbial and plant function, how microbial communities influence plant growth, how microbes drive geochemical cycles, how environmental dynamics shape microbial communities, how ecosystems affect energy, water, and nutrient cycles, and other fundamental processes.

The proposed BioEPIC research facility could enhance these efforts by co-locating programs now dispersed across several sites, and by providing unique experimental infrastructure.

Several current Berkeley Lab research efforts – including mCAFEs, ENIGMA, and the Watershed Function scientific focus areas – would contribute to future programs within the BioEPIC research facility. Emerging experimental approaches, such as EcoPODs and the EcoSENSE smart soils testbed, two projects that are supported through discretionary Laboratory investments, are expected to become part of the novel tools and capabilities developed and housed in BioEPIC.

BioEPIC would directly benefit the Lab’s extensive research programs in bioderived advanced fuels, biochemicals, and bioproducts. Future research at BioEPIC could significantly advance DOE mission objectives in carbon sequestration, environmental remediation, and ecosystem response to change, as well.

“By integrating our existing research programs in biosciences and environmental sciences, which are already very robust, with emerging science enabled by BioEPIC, we should see unprecedented new insights and more groundbreaking scientific discoveries,” said Berkeley Lab Deputy Director for Research Horst Simon.

Following approval of the mission need in March, a step called critical decision 0 (CD-0), the Lab is now working toward a CD-1 application for BioEPIC. Approval by DOE of CD-1 would indicate that the required alternatives analysis is complete and that the approach to BioEPIC is optimized to meet the mission need. There would be two more approval stages before construction approval at CD-3.

Already under construction at the Bayview site is the Integrative Genomics Building (IGB), which is due for completion in 2019.

Other Lab capabilities that would enhance the work at BioEPIC include NERSC, the Molecular Foundry, the Advanced Light Source, the Joint Genome Institute, and the DOE Systems Biology Knowledgebase (KBase).

The BioEPIC proposal is consistent with the 2017 “Grand Challenges for Biological and Environmental Research” report by DOE’s Biological and Environmental Research Advisory Committee, which articulated the need for research that reveals fundamental principles that drive biological-environmental systems and that enables a predictive understanding of plant-microbe interactions across scales.