The program supports research to understand “rules of emergence” for networks of living systems and their environments. These emergent networks are made up of the interactions among organismal, environmental, social, and human-engineered systems that are complex and often unexpected given the behaviors of these systems when observed in isolation. The often-unanticipated outcomes of these interactions can be both wide-ranging and enormously impactful.
URoL:EN projects will use convergent scientific approaches to explore these interactions and contribute to understanding rules of life through new theories and reliable predictions about the impact of specific environmental changes on behaviors of complex living systems, or engineerable interventions and technologies based on a rule of life to address associated outcomes for societal benefit.
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.