New Collaboration between NSF and the French Agence Nationale de la Recherche (ANR)

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has established an agreement on research cooperation with the French Agence Nationale de la Recherche (ANR). The Dear Colleague Letter, titled, “NSF/Physics/MCB Lead Agency Opportunity at the Physics – Molecular and Cellular Biosciences Interface” (NSF 20-120), encourages collaboration between the U.S. and French research communities.

Two NSF divisions – the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB) and the Division of Physics (PHY) – are participating in this collaboration. Proposals must address the research priorities of each of the participating entities: ANR, MCB, and PHY. Proposals that use multidisciplinary approaches that emphasize quantitative, predictive and theory driven science aimed at understanding mechanisms underlying essential life processes at the molecular, subcellular and cellular scales are sought. Priority will be given to proposals that leverage unique resources and capabilities of partners in the U.S. and France.

A registration file (dossier) must be submitted by December 1, 2020. For full details on submission guidelines, program priorities, and contact information, see DCL NSF 20-120.

BIO Renews Collaboration with UKRI/BBSRC

a colorful abstract picture on a black background

The National Science Foundation’s Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) is renewing its collaboration with the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), described in Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) NSF 20-118.

Titled “UKRI/BBSRC-NSF/BIO Lead Agency Opportunity in Biological Informatics, Microbes and the Host Immune System, Quantum Biology and Synthetic Cell,” the DCL describes four new topical areas associated with the lead agency opportunity. The lead agency scheme allows for reciprocal acceptance of peer review through unsolicited mechanisms and helps reduce some of the current barriers to international collaborations.

There is a two-part application process: a letter of Intention to Submit (due October 21, 2020) will be reviewed for project eligibility. Eligible proposals will then be invited to submit to the appropriate lead agency program. Refer to the DCL for important details.

Projects must be a collaboration between at least one investigator in the US and one in the UK, must address the priorities of both UKRI/BBSRC and appropriate NSF/BIO divisions, and must address the topical areas identified in the DCL. Additionally, proposers must provide a clear rationale for the need for a US-UK collaboration, including the unique expertise and synergy that the collaborating groups will bring to the project.

For full details on submission guidelines, program priorities, and contact information, see DCL NSF 20-118. Please also see this NSF announcement about the collaboration.

Photo credit: agsandrew/Shutterstock.com

NSF releases call for cross-disciplinary teams to investigate AI to Advance Biology

NSF has released a new solicitation for National Artificial Intelligence (AI) Research Institutes (NSF 20-604). The solicitation involves multiple NSF Directorates, including BIO, other federal agencies, and corporations such as Amazon and Google. It also includes a call for AI to Advance Biology (Theme 7).

This Institute theme seeks bold AI-based advances and information infrastructure to push the frontiers of biology, increase our understanding of complex systems, and provide a theoretical basis for original research across the biological sciences. Examples of challenges and activities under the theme are included in the solicitation.

Since such applications of AI to biological problems will ultimately require observation and hypothesis testing, the Institute should incorporate directed efforts to build transdisciplinary teams made up of researchers led or co-led by biologists with appropriate domain knowledge as well as AI researchers and data scientists. Education should be a key component of an Institute and the proposal should include plans to train a unique group of scientists with skills in modern biological sciences and AI who will be capable of leveraging knowledge and technologies to further advance both disciplines and stimulate applications that drive the bioeconomy.

The deadline for proposals is December 4, 2020. To learn about upcoming webinars and to see a list of program officers, visit the AI Institutes program page.

For background on the AI Institutes program, read the post on NSF’s Science Matters blog or read the announcement of recent awards under the program from the White House.

Virtual Reality, Real Science

A student wearing virtual reality goggles sits inside the exhibit titled "Unbecoming Carbon."

When Dr. Iris Meier develops the lab component of a research-focused biology class that she co-teaches each year, titled Art and Science, she knows what the students are expected to learn
. . . during the first half of the semester. The second half depends upon the students: How will they combine their diverse interests and talents to create an artistic experience capable of changing the way participants view biological processes?

Meier approaches each semester by structuring course content around her current NSF-funded proposal. The first few weeks of class introduce biology students and students from the Art and Technology track within the Department of Art at Ohio State University to biology by having them conduct simple experiments. Next, students design and conduct their own experiments. Then, equipped with a deeper appreciation for the topic, the class develops its final project.

In 2019, that project, “Unbecoming Carbon,” used virtual reality to allow participants to enter a leaf pore as a carbon dioxide molecule and then travel through the plant’s biochemical processes to observe how the plant eventually emits molecules of oxygen. The exhibit was funded as a broader impact activity included with her award, “Function and Mechanism of Action of Plant-specific LINC Complexes in Pollen Tube and Guard Cell Biology” (MCB- 1613501).

Meier’s lab studies the structure and function of the plant nuclear envelope, with a focus on understanding the function of the LINC complex. Meier maintains an ongoing collaboration with Amy Youngs, associate professor in the Department of Art, to support the broader impacts activities.

Each year, the exhibits take about five weeks to develop and are open to the public for about three weeks. Assessments are conducted via a survey once participants leave the exhibit. But do they really learn anything? Meier thinks so: “My favorite interview is the visitor who said, ‘This is so cool! I’ll remember [this experience] my whole life, but if you had told me about this, I would have forgotten it in two minutes!’”


*Photo/Video by Amy M. Youngs
*Artwork by Ellie Bartlett, Jacklyn Brickman, Ashley Browne, Amanda Buckeye, Diva Colter, Mona Gazala, Youji Han, Saba Hashemi Shahraki, Brice Jordan, Liam Manning, Iris Meier, Brooke Stanley, Lily Thompson, Zachary Upperman, Stephen White, Taylor Woodie, and Amy Youngs

MCB BIDS FAREWELL TO MYESHIA SHELBY AND DR. REYDA GONZALEZ-NIEVES

photo of Myeshia Shelby, summer intern

Myeshia Shelby joined the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB) in June as an intern through the National Science Foundation (NSF) Summer Scholars Internship Program and the Quality Education for Minorities (QEM) Network.

How did your time at NSF influence how you will go forward with your research?
This virtual experience at NSF has allowed me to demonstrate a flexibility in my productivity. The resources and contacts I obtained during my time here will be a part of my professional growth as I pursue my doctoral degree.

What did you learn from your position?
Initially, my position as a student intern was described as an opportunity to discover areas for professional development. As the program continued, I began to realize that my unique perspective as a student researcher could be pivotal in giving NSF staff an idea of how their funding decisions could possibly impact students, especially minorities at minority-serving institutions. 

What personal goals did you accomplish while at NSF?
In the beginning of the program, I constructed an Individual Development Plan that outlined the areas I wanted to grow in. Of those, the most important area where I experienced growth was in my networking abilities and my ability to succinctly communicate across multiple disciplines.

As a Summer Scholars Intern, what was your project and were there any challenges?
The title of my SSIP project is “NSF-Funded Discoveries and Innovations that Impact the Bioeconomy.” This project focused on principal investigators who received NSF funds for basic/fundamental research as well as application development awards through the Division of Industrial Innovation and Partnerships (IIP). The biggest challenge for me was being able to capture the impact that research findings have had on the bioeconomy and on advancements in basic research.

Dr. Reyda Gonzalez-Nieves joined MCB as a biologist under the Presidential Management Fellows Program in April, 2014, and transitioned to the role of division operations manager in July, 2016. She now serves as directorate operations officer for the Directorate for Biological Sciences.

What was working at MCB like?
MCB opened the door for me to start my professional career. When I completed my Ph.D., I decided to pursue a non-academic career in science. I wanted to use the skills I gained in graduate school in a different way. More importantly, I wanted to still be involved in science and contribute to it. MCB offered the perfect place to fulfill my goal. The staff in MCB is simply amazing – everyone is warm, fun, smart, dedicated, loyal, respectful, and ambitious. They work diligently to move the mission of NSF forward. I can say without a doubt that MCB has been one of the greatest places I have ever worked. During my time in MCB, we worked hard to create an environment of camaraderie, mutual respect, and positivity. It has been of the best professional experiences in my life. My time in MCB showed me what teamwork looks like and shaped my professional career journey.

What personal goals did you accomplish while at the NSF?
I started my journey at NSF as a Presidential Management Fellow. My first job in MCB was serving as a biologist. My long-term goal was to utilize my skills at a larger scale. I wanted to create a culture in the office where staff felt comfortable and appreciated as well as serve as a resource for senior leadership. I wanted to supervise staff and help them grow in their professional career.

I transitioned from the biologist role to the operations manager (OM) in MCB. That gave me the opportunity to supervise a group of amazing administrative professionals and understand how to run the operations in a division. As the OM, I worked directly with MCB’s senior leadership and my counterparts in the other BIO divisions. It was a unique opportunity that helped me decide what I wanted to do next. After being in the role for a few years, I was ready to take the next step in my career. I am now the operations officer for the Directorate for Biological Sciences. My journey to this point was not easy, but it was well worth it. For everyone who is reading this: set a goal and work on it little by little every day. The goal can be short or long term. Even if it seems impossible, work on it. Seek advice and ask for help. More importantly, do what is right for you.

MCB thanks Myeshia Shelby and Dr. Reyda Gonzalez-Nieves for their service and wishes them all the best in their future endeavors.

Office Hours: Q&A on Responding to Community Needs; CAREER Deadline Extended

Virtual Office Hours: Q&A
At the virtual Office Hours event hosted July 8 by the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB), program directors addressed questions submitted by the MCB research community. Topics included research and funding priorities, COVID-19 concerns, the no-deadline proposal submission process, broader impacts, and more. Visit the Office Hours page to view the presentation as well presentations from as all earlier Office Hours.

The next Office Hours will be held August 12, 2020 at 2-3pm EST; the topic will be “NSF-Supported Facilities of Interest.” Registration is required; register here.


CAREER Deadline Extension
NSF understands that universities and research institutions are facing unprecedented pandemic-related challenges. In response, the proposal deadline for the Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) (NSF 20-525) has been extended to Tuesday, August 11, 2020. For more information, read the blog post from the Division of Environmental Biology.

DCL 20-105: Sentinel Cells for Surveillance and Response to Emergent Infectious Diseases (Sentinels)

In recognition of the need for novel approaches to predict or detect the emergence of new infectious diseases, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has released a new Dear Colleague Letter (DCL). Titled “Sentinel Cells for Surveillance and Response to Emergent Infectious Diseases (Sentinels),” the DCL (NSF 20-105) highlights the interest of existing programs within the Directorate for Biological Sciences and the Directorate for Engineering in interdisciplinary approaches to the development of novel biological platforms capable of sensing and responding to emerging infectious agents.

Researchers are encouraged to think broadly about innovations leveraging biology and engineering that may be easily adapted to respond to a range of emergent threats.

Proposals should be submitted to the most relevant program listed below and proposal titles should be prefaced with “Sentinels:”.

Proposals in the participating programs are accepted without deadline and reviewed on a rolling basis. Investigators interested in submitting a proposal are strongly encouraged to contact one of the program directors listed below for further information:

Anthony Garza, BIO/MCB/SSB, aggarza@nsf.gov
Aleksandr Simonian, ENG/CBET/Biosensing, asimonia@nsf.gov
Steven Peretti, ENG/CBET/CBE, speretti@nsf.gov

MCB WELCOMES MYESHIA SHELBY AND BIDS FAREWELL TO ALIAS SMITH AND ALEXIS PATULLO

Myeshia Shelby – Myeshia joined MCB in June as an intern through the NSF Summer Scholars Internship Program and the Quality Education for Minorities (QEM) Network.

What is your educational background?
I have a bachelor’s degree in biology and a master’s in genetics and human genetics.

What were you doing before you came to NSF?
Before being accepted as a summer intern at NSF, I was completing the fall semester of my PhD program at Howard University where I am part of a translational neuroscience research team.

What was your first impression of NSF? Has this impression changed since you began?
I honestly had no idea what took place at NSF, to the point that I asked if research was conducted on premises. After orientation, it was made clear that NSF is a funding entity for research in science and engineering.

What personal goals would you like to accomplish while at NSF?
I plan to use this opportunity to make new professional connections and gain insight as to how NSF fulfills its mission to support scientific research.


Alias Smith – Alias joined MCB in August 2017 as a Fellow sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). He transitioned to the role of science associate in April 2019.

What was the highlight of your time at NSF?
The highlight of working at NSF, specifically within MCB, was being able to work collaboratively with great colleagues on a wide array of projects. I have had the pleasure of working with MCB’s division leadership, program directors, and administrative staff, and in all cases I have learned a lot and had the opportunities to have a lasting impact at NSF and in the community we serve.

What is next for you after your time at NSF?
For the next chapter of my career I will remain at NSF, moving from BIO/MCB to the Emerging Frontiers and Multidisciplinary Activities (EFMA) office in the Directorate for Engineering, where I will serve as an associate program director.

What personal goals did you accomplish while at NSF?
My time at NSF began as an AAAS Fellow. At that time, I was exploring career options, primarily deciding whether to stay in academia or move on to federal or private sector work. After working as an AAAS Fellow and subsequently as a science associate in MCB, I decided that remaining in a federal agency would be best for me with respect to personal growth and the lasting impact I could have on the community. For example, I have been able to develop outreach methods that have the potential to reach a diverse set of faculty members from around the country, directly impacting their understanding of opportunities at NSF.

Would you have done anything differently looking back at you time at NSF?
Looking back at my time at NSF, the main thing I would do differently is reach out to more people across the Foundation to learn about their interests and projects. There is a wide range of expertise represented at NSF and I now know there are many mechanisms to tap into that collective consciousness. I am looking forward to the fact that I am remaining at NSF, and I plan to take full advantage of the opportunity to learn as much as I can from the people around me.


Alexis Patullo – Alexis started as a program assistant in June 2016; she transitioned to program specialist in 2017 and is now a management and program analyst.

What was working at MCB like?
MCB was my first “big kid” job right out of college and I could not have asked for a better place to start. Everyone was always supportive and continually challenged me to be the best I could be. MCB is great team environment and I am going to miss working there. I have learned a lot about NSF these past few years, and hope to use my skills as I transition to my new position.

What is next for you after your time at NSF?
I will be staying at NSF as a management and program analyst in the Directorate for Biological Sciences.

MCB Rotator Dr. Lostroh Wins Award for New Textbook

A textbook written by Dr. Phoebe Lostroh, program director (rotator) in the Genetic Mechanisms cluster in the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences, has been awarded a 2019 Taylor & Francis Outstanding Book and Digital Product Award in the Outstanding New Textbook Category.

Although Dr. Lostroh wrote the book, titled “Molecular and Cellular Biology of Viruses,” for an audience of upper level undergraduates and beginning graduate students, she’s been surprised to observe purchases by academics from other disciplines.

“I wrote this book because, as a reviewer of other books on virology, I felt that there was a gap in books at this level focusing across the molecular and cellular scale,” says Dr. Lostroh. As to why she thinks the book is a success, Dr. Lostroh says that she worked hard to write the book in a very readable style and to include diagrams targeted to reach today’s students. “I tried to convey how virologists know things instead of just what they know,” she says.

Her next project? Dr. Lostroh has just agreed to write “The Pocket Guide to SARS-CoV-2.” Expected to be released this fall, the goal of this book is to convey basic information to a college-educated audience with citations for more experienced readers.