Molecular Foundations for Biotechnology (MFB) 

The Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences along with the Divisions Chemistry, Physics, and Mathematical Sciences in the Directorate for Mathematical And Physical Sciences (MPS);  Information and Intelligent Systems in the Directorate for Computer and Information Sciences and Engineering (CISE); and Chemical, and Bioengineering Environmental and Transport Systems in the Directorate for Engineering (ENG) have announced the release of the FY 2022 Molecular Foundations for Biotechnology (MFB) solicitation (NSF 22-554).

The MFB program invites the submission of proposals to develop fundamentally new approaches in molecular sciences to drive new directions in biotechnology. This year’s solicitation calls for synergistic research collaborations that involve innovative machine learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) methods to foster advances in research in biomolecular systems that have the potential to drive innovation in biotechnology. 

This past year we have seen how machine learning can tremendously accelerate scientific progress and potentially transform the nature of research in the physical and life sciences with the prediction of protein structure from its sequence, a goal that drew the efforts of physical and life scientists for decades. Novel, domain-situated ML and AI approaches have the potential to advance our understanding of biological macromolecules, their assemblies, and their processes. This solicitation seeks to catalyze synergistic and innovative work at the interface of ML/AI and the biological, physical, and mathematical sciences and engineering that goes beyond sequence-structure relationships and addresses standing challenges in biology. The funded research should have potential implications for biotechnology. 

Letters of intent (required) are due Feb. 14, 2022. The full proposal deadline is April 14, 2022. 

If you would like further information about this solicitation, please visit NSF 22-554.  

An MFB virtual office hour to answer questions about the solicitation is scheduled for Friday, January 28, at 4 PM EST; more information about office hours will be provided soon. 

MCA Opportunity: Target date only a few weeks away!

An academic career often does not provide the uninterrupted stretches of time necessary for acquiring and building new skills to enhance and advance one’s research program. Mid-career scientists, in particular, are at a critical career stage where they need to advance their research programs to ensure long-term productivity and creativity but are often constrained by service, teaching, or other activities that limit the amount of time devoted to research.

The MCA (Mid-Career Advancement) solicitation (NSF 21-516) offers an opportunity for scientists and engineers at the Associate Professor rank (or equivalent) to substantively enhance and advance their research program through synergistic and mutually beneficial partnerships, typically at an institution other than their home institution.

Projects that envision new insights on existing problems or identify new but related problems previously inaccessible without new methodology or expertise from other fields are encouraged.

You can find more information on this solicitation here at 21-516.

The target date for proposal submission is February 7, 2022.

Additional guidance is provided here:

MCA – webinar and Q&A


Tips for PIs

Participating Programs at the NSF

Learn More about the PIRE Competition!

NSF is gearing up for the 2022 Partnership for International Science and Engineering (PIRE) competition, managed by the Foundation’s Office of International Science and Engineering, and there are some upcoming chances for you to learn more!

This year’s theme is “Use Inspired Climate Change and Clean Energy Research Challenges.” The PIRE competition invites visionary, ambitious, interdisciplinary, use-inspired research proposals that address scientific challenges related to climate change and/or clean energy. The projects will utilize multi-stakeholder and international partnerships that are essential to address these challenges of critical societal importance at a regional or global scale. The research areas may include any combination of the natural and physical sciences, engineering, and the social sciences. Proposals that advance understanding of the human and behavioral aspects of climate change and/or clean energy challenges are encouraged.  Educational activities should be integral to the project.

More information about the competition and the complete solicitation and submission guidelines can be found on the PIRE program page. OISE staff will be holding Virtual Office Hours 2:30 PM –to 3:30 PM every Monday between January 10 and March 21, 2022 except for January 17 (Martin Luther King, Jr. Day). You can also learn more during a webinar on January 19, 2022, from 2:00 PM to 3:00 PM.

If you have specific questions, please reach out to the cognizant program officers at


Phoebe Lostroh joined MCB in July 2019 as a rotating program director and served in the Genetic Mechanisms (GM) cluster and the Systems and Synthetic Biology (SSB) cluster.

Photo of Dr. Phoebe Lostroh

What was the highlight of your time at NSF?
The highlight of my time at NSF was working on the CARES Act COVID-19 RAPID queries on behalf of MCB. Because of that work, I met so many other NSF people across the whole Foundation and I got to contribute to an urgent national need. Even when it was sometimes exhausting, it always felt great because we were all pulling together to lead the national basic science response to the crisis.

What would you tell someone who is thinking about serving as a Program Director at the NSF? Working as a program director at NSF is a great opportunity for anyone who is looking to expand their administrative skills and scientific breadth. There are new things to learn literally every day, and the Foundation is very thoughtful about how to bring rotators on board and train us. MCB, in particular, is strongly committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion as well as to great science. It has been an honor to serve with everyone in MCB.

MCB Division Director, Theresa Good, said about Dr. Lostroh, “Phoebe contributed to MCB in so many ways beyond Program Management.  I would routinely get emails from people from the community telling me how grateful they were that she talked to them at their senior citizen center or helped their community set up their COVID testing.  One of her greatest talents is being able to communicate science to anyone, and even make some of us laugh about it.  You’ll have to ask Phoebe directly where to see her perform science comedy in Colorado Springs.  We’ll miss her passion, her dedication, and her humor.  But I am sure that Colorado College is happy to have her back.”

Accelerating Innovations in Biomanufacturing Approaches through Collaboration Between NSF and the DOE BETO funded Agile BioFoundry (NSF-DOE/ABF Collaboration) NSF 22-549

The Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences in NSF’s Directorate for Biological Sciences and the Division of Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental and Transport Systems in the Directorate for Engineering announce a new funding opportunity in collaboration with the Department of Energy’s Bioenergy Technologies Office (DOE BETO), “Accelerating Innovations in Biomanufacturing Approaches through Collaboration Between NSF and the DOE BETO funded Agile BioFoundry” NSF 22-549.

This funding opportunity provides support for researchers from institutions of higher education and non-profits to take advantage of the unique Design-Build-Test-Learn facilities at the Agile BioFoundry (ABF).  NSF will support the work of the researchers prior to or in parallel to the work that will occur at ABF.  DOE BETO will support the work at ABF through a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA).  Through this collaboration, NSF hopes that more basic research projects can be advanced to deliver impact to society leveraging the rapid prototyping and advanced biotechnology resources available at ABF. 

The deadline for proposal submission is April 4, 2022.  Prior to submission, proposers are required to contact ABF and submit a brief outline of their plan for feasibility review. Ideally the plan should be submitted for feasibility review 2 months prior to proposal submission. Due to this year’s time constraint, ABF is willing to accept plans for feasibility review until February 21, 2022 at the latest.

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.

Understanding the Rules of Life: Emergent Networks (URoL:EN) Webinar Announced

NSF has recently released a revised solicitation under the Understanding the Rules of Life: Emerging Networks (URoL:EN) program. To help inform the community of the changes in and particulars of the new solicitation, the program team will be holding a webinar on

Friday, January 7, 2022 from 2:30 p.m. – 3:30 p.m. ET.

Program Officers will provide an introduction of the revised cross-Directorate solicitation and will be available for questions.


As a reminder, the new solicitation is part of the Understanding the Rules of Life: Predicting Phenotype, one of ten “Big Ideas” NSF-wide, and builds on previous URoL programs to help increase knowledge and the ability to predict an organism’s observable characteristics—its phenotype—from its genotype.

Proposals under the solicitation should be submitted by March 1, 2022.

For more information, see the previous BIO Buzz post.

For full details and guidance on award types, amounts and other questions, see Understanding the Rules of Life: Emergent Networks (URoL:EN).

Your Project Titles Matter, Choose Wisely

Project titles matter because they partially determine who will end up reviewing your proposals. Unlike the situation with journals, where an editor can share the abstract of a manuscript with a potential reviewer, all NSF can share is the title. This comes into play in two important ways:

First, when we put together a panel, we strive to find panelists with a broad diversity of interests to cover the broad diversity of proposal topics in a typical panel.  A major challenge is to figure out the best matches of panelist expertise with proposal topics. To help in doing so, we send each panelist a complete list of proposal titles and ask them to rank each from 1 (“I’d love to review this one and have the necessary expertise”) to 4 (“I’m clueless or disinterested”). Although we sometimes overrule those rankings, we certainly pay attention to them. Here’s the point: If you want your proposal to be reviewed by someone who can best appreciate your project and provide the most constructive feedback, your title is pivotal.  Make sure it concisely summarizes what your proposal is about and stay away from vague or grand statements.

Second, the same challenge of matching reviewers to proposals comes into play when Program Directors solicit reviews from ad hoc reviewers (i.e., reviewers who are not panelists).  While Program Directors may be confident in the appropriateness of a particular reviewer for a given proposal, the reviewer makes a decision about whether to review the proposal according to the title.  The problem is that reviewers are far more likely to say “no” if they don’t have a good sense of what they’re getting themselves into.

Bottom line: You don’t want folks making false assumptions about your proposal’s content when the title is the only glimpse they have to your proposal. You can (and should) provide effective project titles.

NSF Issues New Challenge to Identify Systemic Strategies to Address Long-Term Impacts of COVID-19 on DEI in STEM

NSF has announced the “Taking Action: COVID-19 Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Challenge,” an ideas challenge for Institutions of Higher Education (IHEs). The challenge is designed to highlight the need for institutional solutions to mitigate the long-term, negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) of undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, and faculty in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM).

Because the issues impacting STEM undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, and faculty vary, the challenge is divided into four categories:

A banner noting the title of the challenge and sponsoring NSF programs. The banner includes a simulation-derived image of the SARS-CoV-2 pathogen.
  1. STEM undergraduates at community and technical colleges;
  2. STEM undergraduates at four-year institutions;
  3. STEM graduate students and postdoctoral researchers; and
  4. STEM faculty.

Each category will have first-, second-, and third-place cash winners and may include up to 10 honorable mention designees.

The NSF programs sponsoring the challenge include: Alliances for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP)ADVANCEHistorically Black Colleges and Universities Undergraduate Program (HBCU-UP)Inclusion across the Nation of Communities of Learners of Underrepresented Discoverers in Engineering and Science (INCLUDES), Improving Undergraduate STEM Education: Hispanic-Serving Institutions Program (HSI)Tribal Colleges and Universities Program (TCUP), and Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP)


All eligible IHEs are encouraged and invited to submit descriptions of institutional actions that have been implemented, or will be implemented, such as new and revised policies, procedures, and practices to ensure continued progress toward more diverse, equitable, and inclusive STEM higher education programs and institutions. Submissions from Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) and community and technical colleges are particularly encouraged in all challenge categories for which they are eligible. IHEs do not need to have a grant from NSF to submit to this challenge. 

More information

You can find more information and apply for this challenge on