BIO is excited to announce to the biological sciences community two new funding opportunities under the Understanding the Rules of Life (URoL) Big Idea: 1) Epigenetics and 2) Microbiome Theory and Mechanisms (MTM). The URoL Big Idea seeks to create a new paradigm at the convergence of science, engineering, and technology that will elucidate theoretical frameworks (rules) to enable prediction of the diversity of evolutionary solutions that biological systems use to support life processes seen across the planet. The National Science Foundation has recently invested $36 million in the first projects under the URoL portfolio from two separate solicitations and across more than thirty institutions.
The Epigenetics and MTM opportunities represent a collaboration across Directorates and Offices within the National Science Foundation. Specifically, Epigenetics intends to enable innovative research and promote multidisciplinary education and workforce training in the broad area of epigenetics, while MTM aims to understand and establish theory and mechanisms that govern the structure and function of microbiomes.
Integrative perspectives and research approaches from more than one research discipline are welcomed, as this is a cross-Directorate effort. The interdisciplinary scope of both programs aims to provide unique training and outreach opportunities to train the next generation of scientists in a diversity of scientific approaches and to engage society more generally.
Both programs offer two submission tracks:
Track 1 – for projects with a total budget of up to $500,000 and an award duration of up to 3 years, and
Track 2 – for projects with a total budget of up to $3,000,000 and award duration of up to 5 years.
Supporting fundamental biological research that takes an integrative approach to understanding life’s key innovations is a priority for the BIO Directorate. Despite biology’s unifying goal of understanding the processes that generate and sustain life, 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 now aims to strengthen the connections between biological subdisciplines and encourage a reintegration of biology through a new funding opportunity: Biology Integration Institutes. Letters of Intent are due on December 20, 2019 and full proposals are due on February 6, 2020.
The Biology Integration Institutes will support collaborative teams of researchers at a level not feasible in most existing core programs and over a more extended timeframe than is typical of standard NSF awards. 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 levels of life, from biomolecules to organisms, species, ecosystems, and biomes. While this solicitation focuses on the integration of biological disciplines, any field beyond biology may be included as needed to address the overarching biological theme.
We also intend for the Institutes to enable research and training in a truly integrated environment, preparing the next generation of biological scientists to pursue discipline-spanning research throughout their careers. In these ways, the Biology Integration Institutes will enable the workforce and innovations that will inspire new applications to drive our bioeconomy and provide solutions to pressing societal challenges.
Proposals may be submitted in one of two tracks. Implementation proposals are for teams that have already developed an Integrative Research Plan around a theme of significance, designed an educational approach that employs effective methods for depth and breadth of training, and prepared a cohesive and sustainable Management Plan that is ready for deployment. Design proposals are for teams to develop communities and groundbreaking ideas to be submitted to later competitions as Implementation proposals through diverse and sustained activities, including workshops and follow-up meetings.
NSF is calling for requests for supplements and proposals to support high school teams participating in the International Genetically Engineered Machine – or “iGEM” – competition.
Attracting diverse students to STEM careers at a young age is essential to ensure the realization of a vibrant U.S. bioeconomy that will fuel innovation, economic growth and job creation. Synthetic biology has emerged as a major driver of innovation and technological advancement; as such, active researcher engagement of young people in synthetic biology is an important early step in workforce development to support a growing bioeconomy.
iGEM has emerged as the premier opportunity to engage students in creative research and technology development projects in synthetic biology. Annually, over 6,000 students from around the world at the high school, undergraduate, and master’s level participate in iGEM, working to design, build and test creative solutions to societal challenges using the tools of synthetic biology.
To support early career workforce development in this growing field, NSF is encouraging principal investigators of existing NSF awards to apply for supplements through the Research Assistantships for High School Students (RAHSS) mechanism to support iGEM teams. Supplements can vary in size but are expected to average approximately $10,000 per team. Additionally, NSF encourages the submission of Research Coordination Networks (RCN) proposals that would support dissemination of best practices for working with high school iGEM teams, and/or ways of remote mentoring of teams that are not located near a research university with synthetic biology capabilities. RCN proposals can be submitted at any time to the Biological Sciences or Engineering Directorates.
For more information on iGEM and how researchers can participate, visit iGEM.org.
Learn about the upcoming NEON Webinar from our colleagues in the Division for Biological Infrastructure here or below.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) recently announced its intention to carry out a competition to manage the Operations and Maintenance of the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON). The Dear Colleague Letter (NSF 19-080) announcing this decision:
provides general information on NEON,
communicates that NSF anticipates initiating the competition,
provides information on provisional goals,
outlines a timeline for the competition, and
invites comments and questions from eligible organizations interested in this competition (submit via email@example.com).
NSF will be hosting a webinar on September 11th at 2pm regarding the planned competition for operation and management of NEON. Individuals, teams, and organizations interested in submitting proposals should try to participate.
This webinar will discuss the timeline for executing the competition for the management of NEON Operations and Maintenance. It will highlight key decision points by NSF and identify critical dates for activities related to the competition. The webinar will also provide information on the post-award oversight requirements for awards managed through cooperative agreements (CAs). Following the presentation, there will be a question and answer period.
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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.
In 2016, NSF Director France Córdova unveiled ten “Big Ideas” to shape NSF’s priorities for investment at the frontiers of science and engineering, and drive American science into the future. One in particular – “Understanding the Rules of Life” – has reshaped how we at the BIO Directorate think about scientific inquiry in the biological sciences. The Rules of Life Big Idea seeks discoveries that will allow us to accurately predict change and outcomes in biological systems, and to develop infrastructure and innovative tools to help us ask more complex questions than ever before.
NSF has now published a Dear Colleague Letter (“DCL”; NSF 18-031) catalyzed by this Big Idea, titled, “Rules of Life: Forecasting and Emergence in Living Systems.” This DCL solicits research proposals to develop a better understanding of complex interactions within biological systems, and identify causal, predictive relationships across scales, levels of organization and layers of complexity – so-called “rules” for how life functions.
This DCL describes an initial opportunity to identify areas where such rules may exist, to drive progress toward their discovery, and to focus efforts on using these rules for prediction and design of biological systems. Activities supported through this DCL include conferences, EArly-concept Grants for Exploratory Research (EAGERs) and Research Advanced by Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering (RAISE) grants to create opportunities for enabling predictive capability.
The NSF’s Office of International Science and Engineering has released an updated solicitation for the International Research Experiences for Students (IRES) program. IRES focuses on active research participation by U.S. students in high quality international research, education and professional development experiences in NSF-funded research areas. The updated solicitation can be found on the NSF website.
The overarching, long-term goal of the IRES program is to enhance U.S. leadership in research and education, and to strengthen economic competitiveness through training the next generation of research leaders.
The solicitation has three tracks, two of which are new to the program.
Track I: IRES Sites projects engage a group of undergraduate and/or graduate students in active, high-quality collaborative research at an international site with mentorship from researchers at a host facility. IRES Sites must be organized around a coherent intellectual theme that may involve a single discipline or multiple disciplines funded by NSF.
Track II (New): Advanced Studies Institutes (ASI) are intensive short courses with related activities that engage advanced graduate students in active learning and research. ASIs typically range in length from ten to 21 days and must be held outside the United States. ASIs must have a compelling rationale for their international location and should involve U.S. and foreign researchers. ASIs enable students to develop skills and broaden professional networks, leveraging international participation and complementary resources.
Track III (New): New Concepts in International Graduate Experience projects propose, implement and evaluate creative ideas for catalyzing the development of globally engaged U.S. scientists and engineers at the graduate student level. Professional societies and organizations in the U.S. are invited to propose innovative large-scale programs to provide high-quality international research and professional development experiences for U.S. graduate students.
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.
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
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.
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.