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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org to request a visitor badge.
This week, NSF-funded research was on display on Capitol Hill for “The Arc of Science: Research to Results” event. Scientists whose work provides insights, products, or services to American citizens, businesses, and government interacted with congresspeople, congressional staffers, and representatives from various sectors of the economy, including health care, education, and industry. Guests enjoyed hands-on demonstrations of technologies directly stemming from NSF-funded research.
Attendees learned about BIO-funded research at the exhibit, “QSTORM: Achieving Pinpoint Surveillance Capacity Inside Living Cells.” The Principal Investigator, Dr. Jessica Winter (Ohio State University) and colleagues from the Museum of Science Boston showed how NSF is supporting teams of scientists and engineers to come together to tackle one of the last frontiers of microscopy – obtaining detailed images of the inner workings of living cells. The researchers explained to attendees how new breakthroughs in nanotechnology, chemical engineering, optics, and computer programming are allowing them to address this challenge.
Visitors to the exhibit had the opportunity to “turn on” a real set of amazingly bright and colorful quantum dots–the researchers use these to illuminate the tiniest features inside cells. Then, using a styrofoam and slinky model, the team demonstrated how they “turn off” a quantum dot using a gold nanoparticle tethered by a strand of DNA. Attendees learned how STORM super-resolution microscopy can reconstruct detailed images from overlays of pinpoint dots of light.
The QSTORM project, originally funded in 2010, has since received a second grant from NSF to work on implementing new imaging techniques made possible by the original science and to help establish partnerships which otherwise may not have come to be. Dr. Winter is working with the Museum of Science Boston to develop several hands-on demonstrations to explain the science of quantum dots to a broader audience.
The Arc of Science event was coordinated by the National Science Foundation and the Coalition for National Science Funding. Invited speakers included NSF Director Dr. France A. Córdova, Congressman Lamar Smith (R-TX), Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), and Senator Gary Peters (D-MI).
To see additional highlights from the event, look for Tweets from @NSF with the hashtag #ArcOfScience.
On November 8, 2016, the NSF’s Assistant Director for Biological Sciences, Dr. Jim Olds, presented to the National Science Board an overview of the BIO Directorate’s research and infrastructure investments. This is a brief summary of his major talking points.
The NSF provides approximately 68 percent of federal support for basic research in biological sciences (not including support from the National Institutes of Health).
NSF Support of Academic Basic Research in Selected Fields as a Percentage of Total Federal Support. “Biology” includes biological sciences and environmental biology; excludes NIH. Source: NSF/NCSES FY2014
One of the ways in which NSF ensures that basic biology achieves downstream impacts is through partnerships with other agencies, in the U.S. and internationally, and public-private partnerships; for example, with the USDA, NIH, BBSRC, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and others.
The research supported by BIO’s Divisions crosses scales of size, space, time, and complexity.
The total FY2017 budget request for BIO is $791 million, which is about 1/10th of the NSF’s total request.
Part of the FY2017 budget request includes funds to support research across the Directorate related to the “Rules of Life” framing device which includes, but is not limited to, research focused on: the relationship between genes, the environment, and phenotype; plant and microbial sciences (microbiomes); synthetic biology; the origins of life; as well as support for quantitative, interdisciplinary approaches and resources for training and early career science. Support for projects that involve sophisticated modeling and theory development are seen as opportunities for partnerships with other NSF Directorates.
BIO’s “Rules of Life” framing device contributed to the development of the Ten Big Ideas for Future NSF Investments, specifically the “Predicting Phenotype” research challenge. Among the biggest gaps in our biological knowledge is how to predict the phenotype of a cell or organism from what we know about the genome and environment. The traits of an organism are emergent properties of multiple types of information process across multiple scales. Unpacking phenotypic complexity will require convergence across biology, computer science, mathematics, the physical sciences, behavioral sciences, and engineering.
More than a dozen initiatives constitute the “Major Investments” of BIO’s FY2017 request. Among these are Understanding the Brain, Clean Energy Technology, Microbiome, and support for training and education.
Using amazing new technologies, evolutionary neuroscientist Dr. Melina Hale and her graduate students at the University of Chicago are discovering that the basic movements of one tiny fish can teach us big ideas about how the brain’s circuitry works. Source: “Mysteries of the Brain,” produced by NBC Learn in partnership with the NSF (Full video: https://youtu.be/BUzeEpcO238)
“I love watching these cells be active while the animal is behaving. It’s just remarkable to me that we can see the brain work and try to understand how it’s functioning.” – PI Melina Hale
A new BIO program, Next Generation Network for Neuroscience (NeuroNex), will fund research with the goals of: developing theoretical frameworks for understanding brain function across organizational levels, scales of analysis, and/or a wider range of species; and the development and dissemination of innovative research resources, instrumentation and neurotechnology. We anticipate this portfolio will be transformative, integrative, and synergistic.
Support for clean energy technology-related research will involve funding for enhancing photosynthesis, for systems and synthetic biology, for bioinspired-design of proteins, for exploring the metabolic and energetic potential of living organisms, and for modeling environmental impacts, as well as impacts on genome stability, fitness, and phenotype.
In BIO’s FY2017 budget request, approximately $43 million is designated for programs that will enhance training and education, provide support for early career researchers, and broaden participation. BIO will continue participation in NSF INCLUDES, ADVANCE, CAREER, and Improving Undergraduate STEM Education. In addition, BIO will provide new opportunities for research traineeships (details to come!). It is also important to think about how we track students who are supported by BIO funding along their career trajectory and this will be a topic of discussion throughout the Directorate in 2017.
The Biological Science Directorate also recognizes how critical research resources (infrastructure), centers, observatories, networks, and support for data science are to the success of basic scientific research. CyVerse (was iPlant) integrates many aspects of data science, including providing key infrastructure for data management and analysis. This resource democratizes access to high-throughput computing. Continued investment in cyberinfrastructure would be congruent with some of the Ten Big Ideas for Future NSF Investments and would provide an avenue for BIO to continue to engage with partners in other NSF Directorates. The NSF recently announced awards for four new Science and Technology Centers – the Center for Cellular Construction is BIO-managed and will allow for the development and use of tools for controlling cell trajectories across the phenotypic landscape, which is important for understanding, for example, how cells become malignant.
The big picture for the future of the Directorate for Biological Sciences is this — biology is the engine of innovation in the 21st century. As President Obama said in his weekly address of October 16, 2016, “Innovation is in our DNA.”
Due to revolutionary new technologies, neuroscientists are poised to significantly advance our understanding of the brain and behavior, with profound implications for health and society.
To enhance collaboration and better coordinate global efforts in fundamental neuroscience research, the National Science Foundation (NSF) will support a conference of scientists and government representatives from countries with significant investments in neuroscience research. Attendees, many of whom are members of the U.S. BRAIN Initiative, a public-private collaborative effort aimed at accelerating the development and application of new technologies to revolutionize our understanding of the brain, will exchange ideas and information about their efforts and identify new opportunities for collaboration.
“Brain diseases and disorders affect millions of families worldwide, leading to billions of dollars in medical expenses and lost productivity,” said NSF Director France Córdova, who will deliver opening remarks at the event. “This event is intended to promote collaboration and cooperation in emerging, large-scale international brain projects to further advance neuroscience research. NSF plays a pivotal role in funding brain research, bringing the research community together and shaping the vision for a global brain initiative.”
The NSF’s Assistant Director for Biological Sciences, Dr. Jim Olds, will present information about the NSF’s participation in the U.S. BRAIN Initiative.
On June 29, 2016, the Cancer Moonshot Summit was held on the campus of Howard University in Washington, DC. The National Science Foundation’s Assistant Director for the Directorate for Biological Sciences, Dr. Jim Olds, was pleased to represent the Foundation at the event.
From the Office of the Vice President of the United States:
“In his final State of the Union address, the President tasked the Vice President with heading up a new national effort, the Cancer Moonshot. The ultimate goal is to double the rate of progress—to make a decade’s worth of advances in cancer prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care in five years—to ultimately end cancer as we know it.
The goals of this effort cannot be achieved by one person, one organization, or one discipline. Solving the complexities of cancer will require the formation of new alliances to defy the bounds of innovation and accelerate the prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and—ultimately—a cure. It’s going to require millions of Americans speaking up and contributing what they’re able.
The Cancer Moonshot Summit will be a venue to bring together all sectors that have a role to play in making progress on the Cancer Moonshot goals to share new ideas and launch new collaborations and actions.
The Cancer Moonshot is a mission, and all of us #CanServe. How will you make a difference, break down barriers to progress, or catalyze change where you live or work?”
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
On Thursday, April 21, 2016, a delegation from the Chinese Ministry of Science & Technology (MOST) and the Embassy of China visited the National Science Foundation. The delegates met with representatives from across the Foundation, including Assistant Director for BIO, Dr. Jim Olds.
The delegation discussed current NSF partnerships through the East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes (EAPSI) and Partnerships for International Research and Education (PIRE) programs and talked about potential areas for future collaboration. The meetings were highly informative and strengthened the good relationship between NSF and MOST.
The plenary lectures were followed by presentations of the diverse portfolio of microbiome research projects conducted at UW-Madison. The symposium concluded with a panel discussion of funding opportunities for microbiome research. Participants were Jo Handelsman, Assistant Director for Science at OSTP, Lita Proctor, Program Director and Project Coordinator of the Human Microbiome project at NIH (HMP), and Joseph Graber, Program Director at the Department of Energy (DOE). NSF was represented by H. Gert de Couet, Division Director in BIO’s Division of Integrative Organismal Systems (IOS).
NSF video series: In 2014, NSF awarded a total of $10.8 million to 36 brain research projects. These awards are called Early Concept Grants for Exploratory Research (EAGER). They are part of NSF’s broader efforts to understand the healthy brain. These six videos provide more detail about some of the exciting EAGER award projects: http://go.usa.gov/cGUse
NSF/NBC Learn Video Series: “Mysteries of the Brain.” Scientists and engineers have studied the brain for decades, yet there are many mysteries that remain unsolved. New research is underway to develop and use cutting-edge technologies to better understand the brain. Watch this exciting 8-part video series to learn about the brain and the research NSF is funding: http://www.nsf.gov/news/special_reports/brain/video/
What can fruit flies teach us about social interactions and the brain? Watch this NSF Science Nation video:
Engineered neural networks show hope for axonal repair in the brain, with minimal disruption to brain tissue. Technology holds potential to benefit patients with damage to brain connections resulting from brain injury or disease. Read more from @PennMedNews: http://www.uphs.upenn.edu/news/News_Releases/2016/01/cullen/
In experiments with zoo animals, relative brain size was the best clue to problem-solving ability in carnivores. Read more from NSF here and watch this video from the NY Times’ ScienceTake: http://nyti.ms/1NvP95M