Predicting and preventing pandemics that have not yet happened is the focus of a new funding opportunity from the U.S. National Science Foundation. Researchers from a broad range of scientific disciplines — including those across the biological sciences — are invited to submit proposals to develop multidisciplinary research centers that can address the complex challenges involved in forecasting and avoiding future pandemic-scale outbreaks.
The Predictive Intelligence for Pandemic Prevention initiative, is aimed at better understanding the dynamic nature of pathogen and disease emergence, which poses a continuing risk to our national security, health, and economic stability. The solicitation builds on a series of interdisciplinary workshops held this past year, and provides support for planning activities that identify interdisciplinary grand challenges that can only be overcome through the integration of computational, biological, engineering, and social/behavioral approaches; propose novel conceptual research and technology developments aimed at overcoming those challenges; and formulate interdisciplinary teams to conduct that work.
Phase I proposals are due on Oct. 1, 2021. A solicitation for Phase II Center Grants is expected to be released in FY 2022.
As you may know, as announced in FY 2018, most programs across the Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) had no deadline in FY 2019, a change from previous years. BIO, with the help of a subcommittee of the BIO Advisory Committee, has analyzed proposal data* from FY 2018 and FY 2019 and provided a review of the impact of that change on proposal submissions, funding rates, and more. I’d like to thank that group for their work and share some of the analysis.
The biggest takeaways are – as shown in the chart below – the number of proposals received in FY 2019 was less than in FY 2018, and the funding rate increased in FY 2019 compared to FY 2018. Specifically, In FY 2018 the funding rate across BIO was 21.0% and in FY 2019 it rose to 28.1%.
We saw no substantial impact on gender, race, or ethnicity of submitters (PIs or co-PIs on proposal submissions). However, we have seen an increase in the number of individuals who do not provide these data. Similarly, a significant number of co-PIs do not report the year of their highest degree. We are actively monitoring this trend and encourage submitters to provide this information as it helps us better understand the biological sciences community and those seeking funding from BIO.
Lastly, there was a slight shift to shorter periods between submission and funding decision in FY 2019 as compared to FY 2018. There were, however, external circumstances that could have affected this outcome, including the lapse in appropriations. Future data will enlighten our interpretation of the trends in these and other metrics.
BIO will continue to monitor these metrics and others moving forward to measure the impact of the no-deadline policy over time.
*Data includes externally reviewed proposals in core and special programs across all BIO Divisions. It does not include internally reviewed proposals such as RAPIDs, EAGERs, RAISEs, supplements, or conferences, nor does it include human resource proposals such as Fellowships. The unit measured is proposals, which counts single proposal and collaborative proposals as individual units.
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.
The National Science Foundation has made some changes to the guidance documents for proposal and award policies and procedures. Instead of the current two-guide structure of a Grant Proposal Guide (GPG) and an Award and Administration Guide (AAG), there will be one guide—the Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide (PAPPG; NSF 17-1)—comprising two parts:
Part I: Proposal Preparation and Submission Guidelines
Part II: Award, Administration and Monitoring of Grants and Cooperative Agreements
For proposals submitted or due, or awards made, on or after January 30, 2017, the guidelines in PAPPG 17-1 apply.
In the future you will not see references to the GPG in NSF documents and on NSF web pages (the NSF will be updating existing references to the GPG on all web pages over time).
The NSF has also issued a revised version of the Grants.gov Application Guide (.pdf download). It has been updated to align with changes in the new PAPPG (NSF 17-1).
If you have any questions or concerns about the PAPPG (NSF 17-1), FAQs, or the Grants.gov Application Guide, you can contact the NSF Policy Office at policy[at]nsf.gov. For technical questions related to Grants.gov, please email support[at]grants.gov.
~Happy New Year! The Directorate for Biological Sciences looks forward to supporting exciting new discoveries and outstanding continuing basic science research in 2017.~
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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.”
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.
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
1First-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. 2See the GRFP Program Solicitation: NSF 15-597
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.
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.