Research at the Interface of Biological, Mathematical and Physical Sciences (BioMaPS)

by Dr. Jim Olds, BIO AD

As transdisciplinary research becomes more mainstream, the National Science Foundation has supported this trend by creating new programs and unique funding streams to support collaborations and individual research that gets at the “sticky edges” between disciplines.

BioMaPS, or Research at the Interface of Biological, Mathematical and Physical Sciences, is an example of how a cross-Directorate initiative (involving BIO and the Directorates for Mathematical and Physical Sciences (MPS) and Engineering (ENG)), can be used to strategically invest in research on living systems across scales, from atoms, to organisms, to the environment.

The goals of BioMaPS involve discovering fundamental new knowledge at the intersections of biology, math, and physical sciences to better understand and replicate nature’s ability to network, communicate, and adapt and to enable innovation in national priorities such as clean energy, advanced manufacturing, and understanding the brain. For example, BioMaPS has and will accelerate the generation of bio-based materials and the advanced manufacturing of bio-inspired nanosensors, devices and platforms. Such investments are essential to the nation’s prosperity, economic competitiveness, and quality of life.

In fiscal years 2014 and 2015, NSF invested approximately $60 million total in BioMaPS-related research and plans to continue supporting this vital investment with the goal of attracting scientists and engineers to transdisciplinary research and educating the STEM workforce of tomorrow. For BIO, Emerging Frontiers has been providing matching funds to supplement the support of BioMaPS awards by established BIO programs.

In FY14, BIO supported 106 BioMaPS awards. Modeling and Informatics proposals across all four of BIO’s divisions were jointly funded with the MPS and ENG Directorates for modeling of biological systems. Fifteen proposals had applications in instrument development, and 10 proposals had applications in bio-manufacturing. Projects ranged from instrumentation for high-speed, high-volume 3D imaging in vivo to unlocking the mechanism of tRNA translocation through the ribosome using large-scale molecular simulation.

Recently, BioMaPS FY15 funding was used to provide to Dr. Jennifer Doudna a Creativity Extension for her existing award, “Mechanisms of Acquired Immunity in Bacteria” (Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences). Dr. Doudna is a pioneer in studying Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPRs), whose function in bacteria is to recognize and destroy incoming phage or plasmid DNAs. CRISPR technology is now revolutionizing the biotech industry.

If you think your research meets the criteria of a BioMaPS project or you are considering developing a research project that reflects BioMaPS goals, please contact the Program Director for an established BIO program (i.e., there is not a separate solicitation or Dear Colleague Letter soliciting proposals specifically for BioMaPS funding).

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