NSF Announces Participation in National Microbiome Initiative

(Updated May 16, 2016)

On May 13, 2016, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, in collaboration with Federal agencies and private-sector stakeholders, announced the National Microbiome Initiative (NMI).

As shared by OSTP, “Microbiomes are the communities of microorganisms that live on or in people, plants, soil, oceans, and the atmosphere. Microbiomes maintain healthy function of these diverse ecosystems, influencing human health, climate change, food security, and other factors. The NMI aims to advance understanding of microbiomes to aid in the development of useful applications in areas such as health care, food production, and environmental restoration.”

To kick off the NMI, OSTP hosted an event at the White House to hear from community and research leaders about microbiome science, and opportunities for collaboration and progress. The National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Assistant Director for the Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO), Dr. Jim Olds, participated in the event as a member of a federal agency panel.

Dr. Olds was proud to announce NSF’s participation in this initiative through a Dear Colleague Letter (NSF 16-087) highlighting NSF BIO’s vision and approach to support and encourage microbiome research across the phylogenetic spectrum and biological scales; from host – microbe interactions to ecosystems. NSF BIO will also foster the development of a national research infrastructure to support collaborative science on microbiomes.

Dear Colleague Letter title: Supporting Research Advances in Microbiomes

NSF BIO encourages proposals that advance discovery in the realm of microbiomes with support through several programs in fiscal year 2017. These programs cross the entire BIO Directorate and span basic science through translational research that addresses pressing global challenges and support the development of tools needed for the 21st century.

To learn more about NSF BIO’s participation in the National Microbiome Intiative, access the Dear Colleague Letter here:  http://go.usa.gov/cuSMH

Scuba diving researchers collect samples from coral.
Researchers Rebecca Vega Thurber and Ryan McMinds on a mission to obtain samples from a reef. Research on coral microbiomes is funded by the NSF through a Dimensions of Biodiversity award. Read more: http://go.usa.gov/cuS6m
Photo Credit: Ryan McMinds

BIO’s Division of Integrative Organismal Systems (IOS) Home Page
IOS Core Funding Programs Page (including EDGE Track)
Plant-Biotic Interactions Program Page (IOS and USDA/NIFA)
Symbiosis, Defense, and Self-Recognition Program (IOS Physiological and Structural Systems Cluster Page)
BIO’s Division of Environmental (DEB) Biology Home Page
DEB Core Funding Programs Page
BIO’s Division of Biological Infrastructure (DBI) Advances in Biological Informatics Program Page
Systems and Synthetic Biology Cluster of BIO’s Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences Page

Strengthening Research Capacity at HBCUs

In FY 2015, the Advisory Committee for the NSF’s Directorate for Education and Human Resources convened a subcommittee of leaders from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) to devise a comprehensive strategy to accelerate significant competitive opportunities for HBCUs through NSF’s Research and Related Activities (R&RA) programs.

Image of blackboard with title of Dear Colleague Letter

To help implement this strategy, NSF has just published a Dear Colleague Letter (NSF 16-080) titled “Strengthening Research Capacity at Historically Black Colleges and Universities.” These actions are in keeping with guidance provided in NSF’s appropriations for FY 2015 and FY 2016 related to increasing the research capacity at HBCUs.

NSF invites proposers from HBCUs to submit supplemental funding requests to EHR’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities – Undergraduate Program (HBCU-UP) and other awards that would increase research capacity of faculty and postdoctoral fellows in NSF-supported areas of research.

Additionally, NSF also invites HBCUs to submit EArly-concept Grants for Exploratory Research (EAGER) proposals to the HBCU-UP program to explore new directions or appropriate extensions of disciplinary-based research activities.

For complete information about this funding opportunity, please read the DCL (NSF 16-080): http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2016/nsf16080/nsf16080.jsp

Changes to Graduate Research Fellowship Program Eligibility

(Links updated March 29, 2016)

On March 7, 2016 the National Science Foundation’s Directorate for Education and Human Resources issued a Dear Colleague Letter (NSF 16-050) identifying changes in eligibility to the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP).

Effective as of the 2017 competition (Fall 2016 deadlines), NSF will limit graduate students to only one application to the GRFP, submitted either in the first year or in the second year of graduate school.1 No change is made to the eligibility of undergraduates, of bachelor’s degree holders without any graduate study, or of individuals who have had an interruption in graduate study of at least two consecutive years.2

Read the Dear Colleague Letter and access Frequently Asked Questions (NSF 16-051)

1 First-year graduate students in Fall 2015 who applied to the 2016 GRFP competition will be allowed to apply a second time in Fall 2016, if they are otherwise eligible. All other graduate students are subject to the new eligibility requirements.
2 See the GRFP Program Solicitation: NSF 15-597

Press Release 16-033 (March 29, 2016): NSF awards 2016 Graduate Research Fellowships

NSF Announces Participation in National Research Infrastructure for Neuroscience Effort

In a Dear Colleague Letter dated February 19, 2016, the Directorates of the National Science Foundation announced the NSF’s intention to foster the development of a national research infrastructure for neuroscience to support collaborative and team science for achieving a comprehensive understanding of the brain in action and context.

This multi-directorate effort is part of the NSF’s Understanding the Brain activity, including NSF’s participation in the White House’s Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative.

Image of a fruit fly brain.
Image of a fruit fly brain highlighting the region that processes olfactory information (green). The fruit fly brain is a powerful model for understanding human biology. Credit: Jessica Plavicki and Grace Boekhoff-Falk, University of Wisconsin Madison

Understanding the brain is one of the grand scientific challenges at the intersection of experimental, theoretical, and computational investigation in the biological, physical, social and behavioral sciences, education research, and engineering.

Achieving a comprehensive understanding of the brain requires increased emphasis on systematic, multidisciplinary collaboration and team science to establish quantitative and predictive theories of brain structure and function that span levels of organization, spatial scales of study, and the diversity of species. This challenge necessitates the development of innovative, accessible, and shared capabilities, resources and cyberinfrastructure, along with the eventual organizing of these into a coherent national infrastructure for neuroscience research.

This effort will be realized through a phased approach.

Read more…

Meeting NSF’s Technical Reporting Requirements

PIs must use Research.gov to meet all NSF technical reporting requirements, including submission of annual, final, and project outcomes reports.

  1. What is Required?

NSF requires that all Principal Investigators (PIs) submit annual reports during the course of an award and a final report no later than 120 days following expiration of an award. Each report is reviewed by the award’s managing Program Officer; the reporting requirement is met only after the Program Officer has reviewed and approved the report.

NSF also requires…

Read more…

Revised Grant Proposal Guide for 2016

A revision of the Grant Proposal Guide will be in effect on January 25, 2016. Note – the revisions apply to all proposals due on or after January 25th.

You can access the 2016 GPG here: go.usa.gov/3SrTB

Read about the changes & clarifications to the Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide (which includes the GPG) here: go.usa.gov/cKP92

Remember, when the instructions in a solicitation differ from the GPG, the solicitation is what you should follow. If you have any questions regarding what guidelines to follow, don’t hesitate to contact the Program Director/Officer for the program to which you are applying. Contact information is always listed on the Program Summary page.

Revised Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide (Effective 2016)

A revised Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide (NSF 16-1) will be effective for proposals submitted, or due, on or after January 25, 2016.

The PAPPG includes the Grant Proposal Guide and Award and Administration Guide.

Significant revisions include:

  • enforcement of 5 p.m. submitter’s local time across all NSF funding opportunities;
  • implementation of NSF’s Public Access Policy;
  • submission of proposal certifications by the Authorized Organizational Representative (AOR) concurrently with proposal submission;
  • NSF’s implementation of the U.S. Government Policy for Institutional Oversight of Life Sciences on Dual Use Research of Concern;
  • provision of Collaborators and Other Affiliations information as a  new single-copy document, instead of as a part of the Biographical Sketch;
  • submission of Biographical Sketches and Current and Pending Support separately for each senior personnel;
  • electronic signature and submission of notifications and requests by the AOR only;
  • revision of time-frame for submission of final project reports, project outcomes reports and financial closure of awards to 120 days after the award end date; and
  • numerous clarifications throughout the document.

Webinar information

For more information, contact policy[at]nsf[dot]gov.

Postdoctoral Research Fellowships in Biology

On October 13, 2015, BIO hosted an informative webcast about Postdoctoral Research Fellowships in Biology (PRFB). The deadline for PRFB proposals (for Fiscal Year 2016 funding) is November 3, 2015.

The webcast was lead by NSF staff from BIO’s Division of Biological Infrastructure and the Division of Integrative Organismal Systems.

BIO makes PRFB awards to recent recipients of the doctoral degree for research and training in selected areas* supported by BIO and with special goals for human resource development in biology (awards are not made to institutions). The fellowships encourage independence at an early stage of the research career to permit Fellows to pursue their research and training goals in the most appropriate research locations, regardless of the availability of funding for the Fellows at that site.

*For FY 2016 and beyond, the areas are:

  1. Broadening Participation of Groups Under-represented in Biology
  2. Research Using Biological Collections, and
  3. National Plant Genome Initiative (NPGI) Postdoctoral Research Fellowships.

The webcast provides information for potential applicants regarding when and how to apply and common pitfalls and problems to avoid.

To download a copy of the PowerPoint presentation used by BIO staff or to view the archived webcast, visit http://www.tvworldwide.com/events/nsf/151013/. To view the webcast, you must register with your email address (registration is free).

As of October 21, more than 120 participants registered for and participated in or watched the archived version of the webcast.

A later webcast, planned for 2016, will target graduate advisors of future applicants and established scientists interested in serving as sponsoring scientists to NSF Fellows in the future.

The postdoctoral research experience represents a critically important career transition for future leaders in biology. If you have questions about the PRFB Program, contact the Program Officers listed on the Program Summary web page (note, inquiries for program areas 1 and 2 should be sent to bio-dbi-prfb[at]nsf[dot]gov and for area 3, the NPGI PRF, inquiries should be sent to dbipgr[at]nsf[dot]gov).

Biological Sciences Guidance on Data Management Plans

On October 1st, 2015, BIO made available an updated version of “Biological Sciences Guidance on Data Management Plans.”

A Data Management Plan (DMP) must be included with a full proposal and should describe how a project will conform to NSF policy on the dissemination and sharing of research results (see NSF 15-1 and NSF 16-1). The DMP is evaluated as part of the Merit Review process, either under the Intellectual Merit or the Broader Impacts criterion, or both, as appropriate for the scientific community of relevance. BIO anticipates differences in data management practices across the many research communities we support and recognizes that not all data are appropriate for post-project dissemination or preservation.

Generally, the DMP addresses two different aspects of the research process:

  • data handling during the project (which concerns robust and reliable research), and
  • preparation of data (software/materials/etc.) for dissemination or deposit for future access.

In brief, a DMP should include:

  • the types of data, samples, physical collections, software, curriculum and other materials to be produced in the course of the project;
  • standards to be used to contain and describe those data and materials, including (data) format and metadata standard;
  • policies that pertain to sharing and access, including where appropriate, consideration of
    • appropriate protection of privacy, confidentiality, security, intellectual property, or other rights or requirements; and
    • allowances or restrictions on re-use, re-distribution, and the production of derivatives;
  • plans for depositing or archiving data, samples, and other research products to preserve access to them.

In response to consultations with the scientific community and BIO’s Program Officers about data management, this updated BIO Guidance on DMPs is intended to clarify several required components identified in NSF policy. Please note that program-level data management requirements may be more specific or extensive than the BIO Guidance on DMPs, and you are advised to contact a BIO Program Officer if you have any questions related to a DMP in the program context.

Future blog posts will address BIOData as well as changes in the newly released version of the NSF Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide (PAPPG; NSF 16-1); the new PAPPG is effective for proposals submitted, or due, on or after January 25, 2016.

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).