Integrating Biology

Biology has the goal of understanding the processes that generate and sustain life.  Despite this unifying principle, the actual practice of modern biology has become increasingly fragmented into subdisciplines due, in part, to specialized approaches required for deep study of narrowly defined problems.  BIO aims to encourage a unification of biology. Our goal is to stimulate creative integration of diverse biological disciplines using innovative experimental, theoretical, and computational approaches to discover underlying principles operating across all hierarchical levels of life, from biomolecules to organisms, species, ecosystems, and biomes.

Earlier this year we asked you, as members of the biological sciences community, for high-level ideas on the research questions and topics that would benefit from NSF investment in a truly integrated research environment. The responses from across the country offered a broad range of fundamental biological questions spanning the scales of biological organization. BIO now wants to grow and enrich the conversation with a view to priming the formation of new NSF-supported research teams around these questions.

To that end, we invite you to register for one of several Virtual Town Hall discussions, which will take place the week of September 16, 2019. These events will help identify themes for more focused, in-person discussions that will take place later in the fall – fertile soil for germination of new, foundational cross-disciplinary ideas that will unify and advance the biological sciences.

More details can be found at https://reintegratingbiology.org/.

NEXT STEPS for NEON

One of BIO’s highlights from this current fiscal year is the movement of the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) from construction into full operations. 179 data products are now freely available to the scientific community and the public on the NEON Data Portal, and we are pleased to note that downloads of the data are rapidly increasing as is use of NEON data in publications. NEON data is also transforming ecological education at a diverse range of institutions.

NSF recently announced (NSF 19-080) its intent to launch an open competition for the management of NEON’s future operations and maintenance. NSF’s major facilities routinely undergo such a merit-based, peer-reviewed process, thus the announcement signals that NEON has matured into a fully-functioning Observatory.  The review process will take roughly two years, with the new award expected to commence in late 2021.  As always, NSF will be relying on community expertise in the merit review process, which will ensure that NEON is an effective resource for ecology for years to come.

We recognize that members of the scientific community may have questions and input for NSF as we embark on this process. We welcome community input, and to that end, we will host a NEON Information Session and Question and Answer Period on Monday, August 12, at the Ecological Society of America’s Annual meeting in Louisville, KY. For those who won’t be at ESA, questions and input can be directed to the cognizant program officer, Dr. Roland Roberts (neon-bot@nsf.gov).

We hope to see many of you at ESA.

Notice: New Email Validation System May Block NSF Email Communications

NSF has applied a mandated global email policy change that may be interfering with NSF communications to and from external email recipients. All email activities may be impacted, including automatic NSF email notifications, ad-hoc review requests, panelist correspondence, and any correspondence with PIs, co-PIs, fellows and job candidates.

This new email validation system, called “Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting & Conformance” (DMARC) is an email authentication, policy, and reporting protocol that helps to deal with phishing, spam, and server spoofing. This change was made as outlined in the Department of Homeland Security’s Binding Operational Directive (BOD) 18-01.

Since some universities, organizations, and federal agencies have not applied the DMARC policy for their email servers, email sent by NSF may be classified as spam by organizational email services and may be quarantined prior to delivery. Additionally, if an external email recipient auto-forwards email that is sent to their organization’s email account (ex. a .edu email address) to another account (ex. a gmail.com email address), they will not receive the forwarded email. A full explanation of this issue can be found on the DMARC website.

Although there are no actions NSF or individual recipients can take to prevent emails from being blocked at this time, we strongly recommend following up emails with a phone call, especially if you don’t receive an expected reply. Additionally, please alert your IT Department or Email Administrator for information on ways your institution may be able to address the issue.

Reminder: Integration Institutes Request for Information Due March 1

This is a reminder that the deadline for the Integration Institutes Request for Information is this Friday, March 1. The BIO Directorate is seeking high-level ideas from the community on fundamental biological research questions and topics poised for major advances. For more information, please visit our previous post, visit the Dear Colleague Letter or send an email to BIO-RFI-II@nsf.gov.

Help Shape BIO’s Future: Submit your Integration Institute idea by March 1!

Would you like to help shape the future of biological research? The NSF Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) recently published a Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) seeking high-level ideas from the community on the research questions and topics that would benefit from NSF investment in a truly integrated research environment.

As a reminder, this is a call for ideas, not proposals, meaning there is no funding associated with this DCL, but rather provides the community with an opportunity to share its visions for the future of biology. Any ideas you have – even those that include collaborations with fields outside the biological sciences – will be considered and will help inform BIO strategies for supporting a number of Integration Institutes over the next several years.

The deadline for submissions is March 1. Please see the Dear Colleague Letter (NSF 19-027) for details on how to submit your ideas, and direct any questions to BIO-RFI-II@nsf.gov.

A Letter from the Assistant Director

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Dear Colleagues,

BIO is excited to be back to work following the long lapse in appropriations. We thank the biological sciences community for its patience and its support of students, postdocs, faculty, technical and administrative support staff and researchers during this challenging time.

Fortunately, because BIO core programs have a no-deadline submission process and relevant systems remained online during the shutdown, BIO has experienced few disruptions to our division programs. However, this also means that we have a backlog of submitted proposals and missed panels. As we get our systems up and running again, we are establishing processes that will enable us to focus on high-priority areas, particularly in light of the three-week continuing resolution. Our staff is working hard to reschedule cancelled merit review panels and process awards, and is prioritizing in particular the review and funding of postdoctoral fellowships and REU site awards. As we work to expedite the return to normal operations, I call upon the volunteerism of the reviewer community and ask for your flexibility in participating in rescheduled and virtual panels.

In addition to addressing the backlog of activities from the lapse, BIO remains committed to delivering on ongoing competitions, including the Understanding Rules of Life competitions. Please note that deadline dates for BIO special solicitations and DCLs remain unchanged.

A special note to our colleagues in the ecological sciences community about the changes that took place at the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) during the lapse in appropriations: Now that NSF has resumed operations, we are re-engaging with all key stakeholders in the project. I remain fully committed to ensuring that NEON realizes its scientific promise as it transitions to full operations. I wish to express my gratitude to all those who have worked together to bring NEON construction to the finish line, including Battelle staff and NEON’s Science, Technology and Education Advisory Committee (STEAC), and thank the STEAC for their thoughtful engagement and continued commitment to NEON.

I once again thank you for your patience in this challenging time and ask for your continued support as we work to get back on track as soon as possible.

Sincerely,
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Joanne Tornow, PhD
Assistant Director for Biological Sciences

Integration Institutes Request for Information Due March 1

The NSF Directorate for Biological Sciences has published a Dear Colleague Letter seeking ideas from the community on Integration Institutes for cross-cutting biology. These institutes would support collaborative teams of researchers to address questions that span multiple levels of organization in living systems and require expertise from diverse biological subdisciplines.

This is not a call for research proposals, but rather for high-level ideas about the types of questions and resources that would benefit from NSF investment in a truly integrated research environment.

The deadline for submissions is March 1. Please see the Dear Colleague Letter (NSF 19-027) for details on how to submit your ideas.

Statement from the Acting Assistant Director for Biological Sciences on Proposal Submission Limits

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Dear Colleagues,

In August, the BIO directorate released new solicitations to its proposal submission process to eliminate deadlines and limit the number of proposals that could be submitted to a given division annually by a PI or co-PI. As BIO was receiving far more worthy proposals than it has money to support, this submission cap was established with a view to ensuring that BIO’s merit review process would not be overwhelmed with the move to no deadlines.

In the ensuing three months, the community expressed serious concern that this new policy would hinder collaboration as well as limit funding prospects for new investigators. BIO places a high value on collaboration and on fostering careers of new investigators; thus, we held internal discussions to consider ways to address these concerns. In addition, relatively few proposals have been submitted to BIO since the release of the solicitations.

Having listened to community concern and tracked the current low rate of submission, and following extensive internal consultation, BIO is lifting all PI or co-PI restrictions on proposal submission for FY 2019, effective immediately.

BIO recognizes that it is important to track the effects of the no-deadline policy on proposal submission patterns, to ensure that a high-quality review process is sustained. Therefore, we are seeking approval from the Biological Sciences Advisory Committee to establish a subcommittee to assist in developing the evidence base for any future policy changes that may be needed.

Solicitations for proposals will be amended and released over the next few weeks to reflect these changes.

Sincerely,
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Joanne Tornow, PhD
Acting Assistant Director for the Biological Sciences

Special BIO Advisory Committee Meeting to be held 11/16

The BIO advisory committee will hold a special meeting on Friday, November 16th from 2:30-4:30 PM to discuss immediately establishing a subcommittee to consider different options for addressing community concerns with the BIO proposal submission limits.

This meeting will be held via teleconference among the Advisory Committee members. Public visitors will be able to attend the meeting in person at NSF headquarters; please contact Alexis Patullo at apatullo@nsf.gov to request a visitor badge.

For more information on this meeting, please visit the NSF BIO Advisory Committee page.

AccelNet Webinar Next Monday, 11/5

Accelerating Research through International Network-to-Network Collaborations (AccelNet) supports strategic linkages among U.S. research networks and complementary networks abroad that will leverage research and educational resources to tackle grand scientific challenges that require significant coordinated international efforts.  AccelNet invites proposals, submitted by U.S.-based researchers, for the creation of international networks of networks in research areas aligned either with one of the NSF Big Ideas or a community-identified challenge with international dimensions.

For the first competition, Letters of Intent for are due December 21, 2018 and Full Proposals due February 28, 2019.  The NSF Office of International Science and Engineering (OISE) funded several workshops that will take place in 2019, and we will offer webinars for the community.

The first webinar will be this Monday, November 5 – visit the event page for webcast info. Updates on future webinars will be posted on the program page.

Additional information on this program is available on the AccelNet Program Page. We invite you to direct any questions to oise-accelnet@nsf.gov.