Reintegrating Biology Workshop Series Outcomes

The BIO Directorate considers integrative approaches to understanding life’s key innovations as essential for understanding the full diversity of mechanisms regulating fundamental biological processes.

The Reintegrating Biology series of workshops (https://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/showAward?AWD_ID=1940791&HistoricalAwards=false) included a combination of virtual and in-person events and provided a venue for the broader biological community to discuss the opportunities and challenges for integrating across the biological sub-disciplines. As part of this series of workshops, a total of 318 researchers participated in four concurrent jumpstart meetings in Atlanta, Austin, San Diego and virtually during December 4-6, 2019.  Participants collaborated on a series of vision papers describing what could be accomplished by reintegrating across the subdisciplines of biology, and some of the obstacles preventing such a reintegration from happening. So far, 60 vision papers have been received and can be viewed at: https://reintegratingbiology.org/vision-papers/. Other vision papers have already been submitted for publication. The next Reintegrating Biology event will be a virtual Microlab on January 16 where participants from the four jumpstart meetings will discuss similar themes that emerged during the different events.

NSF would like to thank the participants of the four jumpstart meetings and the broader biological research community for helping make the series of reintegrating biology workshops such a success. These discussions will inform both current integrative biology funding opportunities such as the Rules of Life track in each of the divisional solicitations and the Biology Integration Institutes program (https://www.nsf.gov/funding/pgm_summ.jsp?pims_id=505684&org=BIO&from=home), as well as future activities.

From the AD: Save the Date for BIO’s 2020 Distinguished Lecture Series

Image of the world with

Dear Colleagues,

Please join the Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) for the 2020 Distinguished Lecture Series.

BIO’s Distinguished Lecture Series brings eminent researchers to NSF Headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia to speak to BIO scientists, other scientists in the agency, staff members, and a broader Washington-area audience about their research.

Below is more information about the 2020 Distinguished Lecture Series Speakers. Refer to BIO’s homepage for updated information as the lecture dates get closer.

If you wish to attend in person at NSF Headquarters (2415 Eisenhower Ave, Alexandria, VA 22314), please contact Nick Hunt (jamhunt@nsf.gov). Advance sign-up requests are required, and guidelines for visiting NSF are at https://www.nsf.gov/about/visit/

I hope you will be able to attend what are sure to be stimulating and thought-provoking lectures.

Sincerely,

Image of the signature of Dr. Joanne Tornow, Assistant Director for Biological Sciences

Joanne Tornow, PhD
Assistant Director for Biological Sciences

 

BIO’s 2020 Distinguished Lecture Series

Image of Dr. Michael Lynch Dr. Michael Lynch

Biodesign Center for Mechanisms of Evolution

Arizona State University

January 22

11-12pm

E3410

Image of Dr. David Micklos Dr. David Micklos

Dolan DNA Learning Center

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

March 5

3-4pm

E3410

Image of Dr. Jef Boeke Dr. Jef Boeke

Institute for Systems Genetics

New York University Langone Medical Center

May 21

11-12pm

E3410

Image of Dr. Hopi Hoekstra Dr. Hopi Hoekstra

Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Harvard University

September 24

11-12pm

TBA

 

Upcoming Biology Integration Institutes Webinar

Please join us for the upcoming webinar about the Biology Integration Institutes (BII) on November 18th, 2019 at 2pm EST!

During this webinar, program directors from the BIO BII Team will address questions about the recently released solicitation (NSF 20-508).

Use the registration link below to register for our November 18th webinar.

Click here to register

The BII is a new funding opportunity to strengthen the connections between biological subdisciplines and encourage a reintegration of biology. This funding opportunity is a part of BIO’s larger efforts to stimulate integrative thinking in the biological research community.

To learn more about the Biology Integration Institutes, visit the solicitation and program website.

Letters of Intent for Implementation Proposals are due December 20, 2019. The deadline for full proposals, in both the Design and Implementation tracks, is February 6, 2020.

INCLUDES Virtual Office Hour

Please join us for the upcoming information session on the Inclusion Across the Nation of Communities of Learners of Underrepresented Discoverers in Engineering and Science (NSF INCLUDES) program on October 17th, 2019 from 1pm-2pm EST!

During this Virtual Office Hour, program directors from the NSF INCLUDES Implementation Team will discuss the program’s history and new planning grants solicitation (NSF 19-600). Following the discussion, program directors from NSF INCLUDES and the Division of Integrative Organismal Systems (IOS) will answer questions from attendees during an open question and answer period.

Join us remotely and bring questions, comments and concerns! Please use the registration link below to register for our October 17th Virtual Office Hour.

Click here to register

NSF INCLUDES is one of the 10 Big Ideas and is a comprehensive national initiative to enhance U.S. leadership in STEM discoveries and innovations focused on NSF’s commitment to diversity, inclusion and broadening participation in these fields. These planning grants support efforts necessary to build capacity to establish future centers, alliances or other large-scale networks endeavoring to address a broadening participation challenge in STEM at scale.

The first deadline for full proposals is December 3, 2019.

For more details, refer to the full solicitation: NSF 19-600

NEON Webinar

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 neon-bot@nsf.gov).

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.

For further details about the competition, please consult the NEON Program webpage and DCL (NSF 19-080).

For more details about NEON, please consult the NEON Project webpage.

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/.

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.

Basic Research Goes to Washington

February 15, 2017

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.

Dr. Olds peers into a small box sitting on a table by lifting up a small flap on the box. Researchers look on.
NSF Assistant Director for Biological Sciences, Dr. Jim Olds, used models of QSTORM quantum dots to discover how they enable scientists to look inside living cells. (Photo credit: NSF)

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.

NSF Assistant Director Discusses BIO Research and Infrastructure Investments with the NSB

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).

A bar graph that includes data for all science and engineering fields, physical sciences, engineering, environmental sciences, mathematic, social sciences, biology, and computer science.
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.

Pie chart showing the budget request for the 5 Divisions of the Biological Sciences Directorate
Directorate for Biological Sciences FY2017 Budget Request by Division

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.

Headline: NSF awards $15.9 million to foster new understanding of biological systems on regional to continental scales.

Some recent awards made by the BIO Directorate support research across scales, for example the MacroSystems Biology and Early NEON Science program awards. Examples of projects funded by this program include research on forest function from genes to canopies, plant-pollinator-pathogen networks, and modeling of invasion dynamics across scales.

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.

The FY2017 request for BIO’s portion of the NSF’s Understanding the Brain initiative is $46 million which includes $19.54 million for BRAIN Initiative activities. Understanding the Brain is a cross-Directorate initiative; for BIO, funding may support team-based science, mapping circuits, connecting function to behavior, and support for data, infrastructure, and tool development. This opens the door for diverse partnerships. In September 2016, the NSF provided support, with The Kavli Foundation and Columbia University, for the Coordinating Global Brain Projects conference hosted by The Rockefeller University, and the NSF is co-sponsoring the upcoming workshop, Comparative Principles of Brain Architecture and Functions, with the Japan Agency for Medical Research and Development (AMED) at UC San Diego.

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.

BIO’s investments in studying microbiomes will focus on the role of microbes in plant and animal function, productivity, health and resilience to environmental change, as well as microbes’ role in soil and marine ecosystems. Partnerships with USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture have already led to support for research on plant biotic interactions, as well as research to develop and enable breakthrough technologies for animal and plant phenomics and microbiomes.

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.”

Coordinating Global Brain Projects Event

September 14, 2016

Coordinating Global Brain Projects

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.

rat hippocampus,
This image shows a rat hippocampus, a region of the brain critical for learning, memory and emotion. Credit: Elyse L. Aurbach, Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience Institute, University of Michigan

NSF and The Kavli Foundation will support the event, hosted by Rockefeller University in cooperation with Columbia University.

“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.

The U.S. State Department, the Global Partnerships Forum, The Kavli Foundation and NSF will also host a complementary event at the U.N. headquarters in New York City the evening of Sept. 19.

Use the hashtag #globalbrain to follow the conversation on social media.

For event details, please see the official NSF Media Advisory: http://go.usa.gov/xKrFd

Related links: