Ismael joined MCB in December 2022 as a Program Specialist

What is your educational background?
Prior to working at NSF, I graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park with a degree in film theory/studies. Before that, I moved around a lot and attended various high schools. I went to Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt, Maryland for a year, then I went to Hall High School in West Hartford, Connecticut, and I graduated from Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, MD.

When did you start working for MCB and what was your first week like? 

I started working for MCB about a month ago. My first week was not extremely busy on the workload front as I was more focused on onboarding, training, and meeting my new team. Within the first week I felt like I was able to connect with several different professionals who thrive in their fields from admin staff to program directors and science specialists.  

What has surprised you most about working at NSF? 

What has surprised me most about working at NSF is the culture and how happy many people are to work here. Prior to MCB, I was in the NSF Office of Advanced Cyberinfrastructure and even though these are different divisions I hear the same thing everywhere I go. “This is the best place I have ever worked” and “I love NSF.” It is great to be in a place where people are hardworking but also enjoy the work that they do and the mission that they serve. 

When friends or colleagues find out that you work at NSF, what do they say or ask? 

Given the fact that I was not a STEM major in college, whenever I tell my buddies from undergrad where I work, they are in shock. Everyone wants to know if I am overseeing NASA projects or working on supporting breakthroughs in military technology. To that I usually respond “not quite” but I find it amusing that they imagine me in a mad scientist role.   


Tuesday Feb. 7, 2023 3:30- 4:30 ET

Several solicitations from the Directorates for Biosciences (BIO) and Geological Sciences (GEO) will soon require the submission of a Safe and Inclusive Work Environments Plan (list of those solicitations below) that will be considered as part of the Broader Impacts criteria during the review process. An upcoming Virtual Office Hour listening session will occur on February 7, 2023. Program Officers from BIO and GEO will provide an overview of the new requirement and take your questions and comments.

This 2-page supplementary document must address the following four sections:

  1. a brief description of the field setting and unique challenges for the team; 
  2. the steps the proposing organization will take to nurture an inclusive off-campus or off-site working environment, including processes to establish shared team definitions of roles, responsibilities, and culture, e.g., codes of conduct, trainings, mentor/mentee mechanisms and field support that might include regular check-ins, and/or developmental events;  
  3. communication processes within the off-site team and to the organization(s) that minimize singular points within the communication pathway (e.g., there should not be a single person overseeing access to a single satellite phone); and  
  4. the organizational mechanisms that will be used for reporting, responding to, and resolving issues of harassment if they arise.   

If you are planning a submission that will involve off-campus or off-site research, defined as data/information/samples being collected off-campus or off-site including via fieldwork and research activities on vessels and aircraft, we encourage you to join this webinar.

Register for the webinar HERE

The solicitations that currently include this requirement are:

  • BIO Core Solicitations:
    • Division of Environmental Biology (NSF 23-549)
    • Division of Integrative Organismal Systems (NSF 23-547)
    • Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (NSF 23-548 )
  • Biodiversity on a Changing Planet (BoCP, NSF 23-542)
  • Pathways into the Geosciences (GEOPAths NSF 23-540)
  • Cultural Transformation in the Geosciences Community (CTGC NSF 23-539)


The Dear Colleague Letter: NSF Options to Address Helium Supply Short Concerns (NSF 22-088) has been archived and replaced by Track 3 in the Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) solicitation  (23-519).  In 2023, MRI will have two submission windows:  January 16-February 21 and October 16-November 15.

The MRI Program serves to increase access to multi-user scientific and engineering instrumentation for research and research training in our Nation’s institutions of higher education and not-for-profit scientific/engineering research organizations.  An MRI proposal may request up to $4 million for either acquisition or development of a research instrument. 

The Tracks for MRI proposals have been revised and now include:

  • Track 1: Track 1 MRI proposals are those that request funds from NSF greater than $100,000 and less than $1,400,000.
  • Track 2: Track 2 MRI proposals are those that request funds from NSF greater than or equal to $1,400,000 up to and including $4,000,000.
  • Track 3: Track 3 MRI proposals are those that request funds from NSF greater than or equal to $100,000 and less than or equal to $4,000,000 that include the purchase, installation, operation, and maintenance of equipment and instrumentation to conserve or reduce the consumption of helium.

Please note that each performing organization may submit up to four MRI proposals:  no more than two submissions in Track 1, no more than one submission in Track 2, and no more than one submission in Track 3. 


A webinar will be co-hosted on Wednesday January 25th, 2023 by teams from the NSF, BETO, and ABF.  The webinar will describe the objectives of this funding opportunity, discuss key considerations, as spelled out in the solicitation, lay out steps for submitting, and emphasize key dates.

To register for this webinar – Click Here.

The Department of Energy Bioenergy Technologies Office (DOE BETO) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences in the Biological Sciences Directorate and Division of Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental and Transport Systems in the Engineering Directorate announce a collaborative funding opportunity, “Accelerating Innovations in Biomanufacturing Approaches through Collaboration Between NSF and the DOE BETO funded Agile BioFoundry (NSF-DOE/ABF Collaboration)”,  NSF 22-549

To help advance the U.S. bioeconomy, this funding opportunity will provide support for synthetic and engineering biology research projects that have the potential to leverage the unique capabilities at the Agile BioFoundry to further the development of the fundamental research towards eventual translation. The topical areas of interest should align with the broad interests of both NSF and DOE BETO.

Thematic areas of particular interest include: 1) expansion of the range of host organisms amenable to the tools of synthetic and engineering biology; 2) development of novel biotechnology approaches to mitigate climate change; 3) projects that advance a circular bioeconomy; and 4) development of affordable, bio-based, sustainable aviation fuel or other products of interest to NSF and DOE BETO that can demonstrate significant climate change mitigation and/or greenhouse gas reductions over a petroleum baseline. The potential economic and environment impact of the project is also a consideration.

Researchers from institutions of higher education and nonprofits are eligible to apply.  Prior to submission of the NSF proposals, project ideas must be evaluated by ABF for feasibility (see below).  Full proposals will be submitted to and reviewed by NSF, and projects selected for support will be confirmed for suitability by ABF.  Successful projects will include funding from NSF for the work performed at the Principal Investigator’s (PI’s) institution and funding from BETO to support the part of the project to be completed by the ABF. DOE BETO will support the work at ABF through a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA). Visit ABF’s Work-With-Us page for more details, including the current CRADA document. 

The deadline for proposal submission is Tuesday, April 18th, 2023.  Proposed projects entail close collaboration with the ABF team. Therefore, prior to submission, PIs are required to request a feasibility review of the project for which ABF collaboration is desired, using the template located here. Once a project has been deemed feasible by the ABF, PIs will coordinate with ABF investigators and refine scope and budget details. PIs will be provided a feasibility evaluation document to submit with their NSF proposals. The proposal timeline is as follows:

  • February 15th, 2023 – PIs submit outline of proposed work to ABF for feasibility review. Prior to submission deadline, PIs are encouraged to review ABF capabilities.
  • March 1st, 2023 – ABF provides feedback to PIs and NSF on the feasibility of the proposed work. PIs with a positive feasibility review will coordinate with the ABF team to refine scope and budget for the full proposal.
  • April 18th, 2023 – PIs submit full proposal along with feasibility review documentation from ABF.

NSF will review proposals according to the standard merit review criteria along with specific criteria that are detailed in the solicitation.  Proposers are encouraged to review ABF capabilities and intellectual property provisions of the CRADA prior to submission. 

For full details on submission instructions, solicitation requirements, and contact information, see NSF 22-549.

Join a Listening Session for the National Biotechnology and Biomanufacturing Initiative

Monday, January 9, 2023 from 2:00PM-3:30PM ET

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy is hosting a virtual listening session on the National Biotechnology and Biomanufacturing Initiative, which was launched through Executive Order 14081. They are interested to hear comments from the public on the topics outlined in the Request for Information that was released on December 20, 2022.

Input on the following topics is welcomed:
• Harnessing biotechnology and biomanufacturing R&D to further societal goals
• Data for the bioeconomy
• Building a vibrant domestic biomanufacturing ecosystem
• Biobased products procurement
• Biotechnology and biomanufacturing workforce
• Advancing biosafety and biosecurity
• Measuring the bioeconomy
• International engagement


Contact: For comments or questions, please email



Office Hour: January 19, 2023, 1:00pm ET

EDGE Proposal Deadline: February 16, 2023

The Division of Integrative Organismal Systems (IOS), together with the Divisions of Biological Infrastructure (DBI), Environmental Biology (DEB), and Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB) in the Directorate for Biological Sciences at the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will host a virtual office hour about the Enabling Discovery through GEnomics (EDGE) program and solicitation (NSF 21-546), which has an upcoming deadline of February 16, 2023 for proposal submission.

Following a brief presentation, program directors from all the Divisions and agencies will be available to answer questions from participants.

Through the EDGE program, NSF and NIH support research to deepen understanding of comparative and functional genomics. The program supports development of innovative tools, technologies, resources, and infrastructure that advance research on mechanisms connecting genes and phenotypes. EDGE also supports functional genomic research on the mechanistic basis of complex traits in diverse organisms within the context (environmental, developmental, social, and/or genomic) in which they function.  

Registration information for the virtual office hour is given below. The slides and transcript of the webinar will be posted here on the IOS blog and on the EDGE program website after the event.

All are welcome to join and ask questions!

Register for this VOH here and be sure to choose January 19, 2023

Upcoming Biology Integration Institutes (BII) Webinar

Please join the Biology Integration Institutes (BII) program for a webinar on December 13, 2022 from 1:00 PM – 2:00 PM EST. There will be a short presentation, followed by an open Q&A session with cognizant Program Officers.

The BII Program supports diverse, collaborative teams that perform research, education and training on critical questions that span multiple disciplines within and beyond biology. The next deadline is February 21, 2023. For more information about previously funded awards under this program and registration for the webinar, see the links below.

Register in advance for this webinar:

Browse projects funded by this program previously.

New Opportunity: Using the Rules of Life to Address Societal Challenges (URoL:ASC) 

Building on knowledge from previous investments in the NSF “Big Ideas,” Using the Rules of Life to Address Societal Challenges (URoL:ASC) (NSF 23-512) will support use-inspired research across a broad range of living systems to tackle pressing societal concerns.  

Examples of some societal challenges that may be addressed by URoL:ASC proposals are: climate change and associated risks, including geohazards, extreme events, and loss of biodiversity; environmental degradation, including impacts on land and water resources; inequalities in availability of and access to essential natural assets; lack of sustainability, including for food, energy, and waste production; and threats from pandemic disease,  

As in previous Big Idea solicitations, this new activity,   is a cross-directorate NSF program and will bring together interdisciplinary teams that span two or more NSF Directorates (BIO, CISE, EDU, ENG, GEO, MPS, SBE, and TIP).  

This solicitation differs in key respects from previous solicitations associated with the Understanding the Rules of Life Big Idea: 

  • It focuses on how rules of life can be used rather than discovered 
  • Proposals should begin with a description of broader impacts, articulating the expected outcomes of the research; 
  • Proposers must adopt a co-production strategy that involves both producers and users of the research outcomes in all phases of the research; 
  • Projects must integrate innovative education and training activities aimed at fostering convergent research;  
  • Projects should actively promote diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in all activities by involving members of underrepresented groups as PIs, co-PIs, postdoctoral researchers, students, and other personnel.  

FFull proposals are due February 15, 2023.  

Opportunities to Learn More 
NSF Program Directors representing the URoL:ASC program will hold a Virtual Office Hour on December 14th, 2022 from 2:00 PM ET to 3:00 PM ET

Please register for the webinar here:  



In 2020, NSF’s Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences together with the Division of Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental and Transports Systems (CBET) in the Directorate for Engineering (ENG) and the Division of Social and Economic Sciences (SES) in the Directorate for Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences (SBE) launched a new solicitation, Designing Synthetic Cells Beyond the Bounds of Evolution (Designer Cells) NSF 21-531.  With this solicitation, NSF hoped to continue to support advances in building synthetic cells and leverage the success of programs like Understanding the Rules of Life: Building a Synthetic Cell. Projects submitted to the Designer Cells solicitation used synthetic biology to address at least one of the following research areas: 

  • identifying the minimal requirements for the processes of life; 
  • addressing fundamental questions in the evolution of life or exploring biological diversity beyond that which currently exists in nature; 
  • leveraging synthetic systems for innovative biotechnology applications.  

The program is now accepting proposals for its third cohort. The due date for proposals for the third year is February 1, 2023.  After this date, proposals will be accepted as core-program submissions to the Systems and Synthetic Biology cluster in MCB.  

In its first and second cohorts, the program made a total of 20 awards. These awards explored several exciting themes, including building synthetic organelles, synthetic approaches to information storage and decoding, strategies for genome transplantation, creating cells with new tunable properties, and studying the dark matter of the epitranscriptome. A full list of the Designer Cells awards can be found here.   

In the third year of the solicitation, Program Director Anthony Garza says that he “hopes to see proposals that continue to push to boundaries of what cells can do, either by adding in new functionality or minimizing cell components, while maintaining high function in synthetic cells.” 


The Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO)– and other directorates at NSF–have a long history of funding basic research that can be used address all sorts of societal challenges. For example, molecular-scale research that identified heat-tolerant enzymes from microbes in hot springs proved critical to the discovery of PCR, which is now widely applied for medical testing (like for COVID-19).  Another example, at the ecosystem scale, is research on fire regimes that is helping us learn how to mitigate the impacts of wildland fire on home, life, and the economy. 

NSF has now launched new webpages to help the research community connect our funding opportunities with three societally-relevant challenges the research might help address:  Biotechnology to Advance the U.S. Bioeconomy, Emerging Infectious Diseases and Life on a Warming Planet.  

The webpages can serve as a kind lens to envision how basic research could be applied or translated.  Also, because some of the research funding opportunities featured on the webpages cut across divisions in BIO and across other directorates, the information also provides a view of connections across the Foundation.  

For MCB PIs, we note that all four the MCB clusters–Cellular Dynamics and Function (CDF), Genetic Mechanisms (GM), Molecular Biophysics (MB), and Systems and Synthetic Biology (SSB)–welcome proposals addressing at least one aspect the three societal challenge areas. For example, CDF would support research advancing the understanding of how cells act and react as a dynamic machine to inform cell-based biotechnology; GM would be interested in research on causal relationships between genome structure and function to enable technological interventions aimed at controlling cellular responses to changing environments; MB would support research to develop new tools that enable, and demonstrate the limits of, prediction of viral evolution; and SSB would be interested in projects to engineer plant symbionts or plant microbiomes to enhance plant performance traits (e.g., growth, yield, and drought resistance).  

We invite you to explore the webpages to learn more about the topics and view funding opportunities, organized by directorate.  

As always, if you have a specific question about where your research might fit, we encourage you to reach out to a program director. If your research doesn’t fit under a program they manage, they can help you find the right program.