JOB ANNOUNCEMENT: BIOLOGICAL SCIENCE ADMINISTRATOR (PROGRAM DIRECTOR)

Directorate for Biological Sciences - 5th best place to work in the federal government

The Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences is looking for one Permanent Program Director for the Genetic Mechanisms cluster. The cluster supports inventive research to address fundamental mechanisms involved in the organization, dynamics, processing, expression, regulation, and evolution of genetic and epigenetic information.

Program directors are an essential part of NSF’s mission, primarily responsible for the administration of the merit review of submitted proposals; managing an effective, timely peer review process; ensuring broad participation of reviewers and increasing involvement of under-represented groups; and building an award portfolio that supports the vision and goals of the National Science Foundation and MCB.

For more information and to apply, please visit USA Jobs for more information before the vacancy closes on September 1, 2021.

NSF 21-100 DCL RENEWAL: BIO AND UKRI/BBSRC COLLABORATION AND BLOG ANNOUNCEMENT

The National Science Foundation’s Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) recently released Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) “UKRI/BBSRC-NSF/BIO Lead Agency Opportunity in Biological Informatics, Microbes and the Host Immune System, Quantum Biology and Synthetic Cell” (NSF 21-100). This DCL announces the continued collaboration between the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and BIO on topics of strategic importance to both agencies. The topics for the coming fiscal year FY 2022 remain the same as those announced for FY 2021.

Under the lead agency agreement, researchers can submit a single collaborative proposal that will go through a streamlined review process either at NSF or at UKRI, on behalf of both NSF/BIO and UKRI/BBSRC.

Potential proposers should submit a letter of Intention to Submit (ITS) by September 22, 2021. If both agencies agree that the research topic fits the topical areas identified for FY 2022, researchers will be invited to submit a full proposal to the appropriate NSF or UKRI program.

Projects must address the priorities of both UKRI/BBSRC and participating NSF/BIO Divisions. Proposers must provide a clear rationale as to the need of the US-UK collaboration, including the unique expertise and collaboration that the team will bring to the project.

For full details on submission guidelines, program priorities, and contact information, see DCL NSF 21-100.

BLOG ANNOUCEMENT: The MCB Blog members will be going on a hiatus until mid-August. We hope to see you again in the fall!

MCB WELCOMES SPENCER SWANSEN

Spencer Swansen recently joined the division in June as a program assistant.

Photo of Spencer Swansen.

What is your educational background?

I attended Seattle Pacific University during undergrad, with degrees in Biology (BS) and Ecology (BS). I was fortunate to be a part of an NSF-funded REU over the summer of 2014 at UC-Riverside, studying fungal interactions at the Center for Plant Cell Biology. Afterwards, I started a Peace Corps Masters International in Forest Resource Management at the University of Washington’s School of Environmental and Forest Sciences. For my Peace Corps service, I was a Youth in Development volunteer in northern Thailand, teaching life skills and English. For my Masters research, I surveyed the community on their perspectives toward land use and potential land conversions. After two amazing years, I closed service two weeks before Peace Corps Volunteers were evacuated around the globe in response to the pandemic.

What has surprised you most about working at the NSF?

One thing that has surprised me about NSF is the intention behind the funding. I will admit that as a student (especially in forestry classes) I grew tired of academia and felt it was an echo chamber with self-perpetuating systems and structures. I have been very pleasantly surprised since starting work at the NSF, though. Not only is there a focus on funding transformational research, whether high risk or otherwise, but there is also a focus on broadening participation and giving more people the opportunity to pursue a passion for science and research. In just a few weeks, I have come to learn that everyone working at NSF shares these intentions. In my role I will be supporting those who make decisions on funding, organizing panels and processing awards and more. I will also get to be exposed to amazing research, and I can already tell that my love for science is being rekindled (sounds cheesy, but it’s true!).

MCB BIDS FAREWELL TO DR. ELEBEOBA MAY

Dr. Elebeoba May joined MCB in November 2017 as a program director in the Systems and Synthetic Biology (SSB) cluster and ended her almost four year term as a rotator under the Intergovernmental Personnel Act (IPA) in June.

Photo of Dr. Elebeoba May

What was the highlight of your time at NSF?

Hands down the people I worked with, and second, the new cross-cutting initiatives I had a chance to help develop were the highlights of my experience. From walking into the building and seeing the NSF mural to exiting the elevator (sometimes unsure which way to turn) and seeing the giant paper snowflakes the MCB staff hung as holiday decor, it was always clear that people – my colleagues –  are the heartbeat of NSF and they were the greatest thing about being at NSF. 

Every day that I had the chance to interact with my MCB colleagues in the halls of NSF (pre-COVID) or on Zoom was a highlight for me. I could always count on having impromptu scientific discussions sometimes after being startled in the hallway (you know who you are), or following my perfectly timed but unintended interruption of a colleague’s lunch (sorry), or even as I wandered the halls searching for chocolate or KIND bars (we all do it). It was even more rewarding when those discussions turned into a nugget of an idea and eventually into a new initiative in the form of a DCL or solicitation.  I’ve had the chance to be a part of the process of growing such new ideas into an initiative a couple of times and that was extremely fulfilling and something I had no expectation of when I first joined MCB.  It’s a real testament to our MCB and BIO leadership that as rotating PDs, we have the opportunity and are encouraged to not only think outside of the box but to build programs across disciplinary boundaries and boxes. In sum, through the people and programs at NSF, I gained unique perspectives and a greater appreciation for the vastness and interconnectedness of science and the importance of the people who do the science.

What was your first impression of the NSF? How did that change over time?

My encounters with NSF started as a graduate student and later with my first review panel, which was for the Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP). Those two experiences and service on many other review panels that followed made me think of NSF as a group of people that cared about science and the groups of people doing the science. Not much has changed in my original impression of the Foundation, but I think that my experiences have repeatedly affirmed those initial thoughts and made me realize that my first impression was just the tip of the iceberg of the integrated Intellectual Merit and Broadening Participation charge that NSF stewards and champions. I found that this dual focus on excellent science and inclusive science are woven into the DNA of MCB and BIO. But one part of my impression that did change, or was a bit revised, was how NSF goes about realizing these goals. I originally saw NSF mainly as unilaterally establishing programs or guidance to which we, the community, would respond. However, I now understand NSF is a steward of these areas, but the community of basic science, engineering, mathematics researchers and educators have to be engaged and partner with NSF to realize these goals. This change in perspective will undoubtedly influence how I view and realize my responsibility to continue to engage with NSF post my tenure as a program director. 

What would you tell someone who is thinking about serving as a program director at the NSF?

Do it! And, perhaps it’s not so bad to do it when you’re mid-career. My experience was so much more than I expected. I learned a lot of what I would categorize as “behind the curtain” stuff, such as how the Foundation sets priorities and how to differentiate those seemingly (from the outside) blurry lines between programs. One rather rewarding aspect of my experience was the ability to see the tangible impact of the programs we managed and developed on my community.  It was fulfilling to have the occasion to shine a light on areas and communities that have the potential to be highly impactful but have not received much attention or investment. The ability to be part of the conversation, engage new voices in the community, and make a difference broadly on the trajectory of individual investigators has been a uniquely rewarding experience. My time in MCB is something I am grateful for and will carry with me for the rest of my career.

Making Epistasis Fun

With some basic ingredients – including common yeast, a few test tubes, and notebooks – Dr. Maitreya Dunham’s broader impacts project has not only created research experiences for high school students – the work has also yielded new findings on specific interactions between genes (epistasis) that influence yeast resistance to azoles. Azoles are a class of synthetic anti-fungal compounds that inhibit the growth of yeasts and fungi, including those that affect foods and health.

The student-run experiments are a component of a collaborative project between Dunham and co-investigator Dr. Paul Rowley (“Collaborative Research: Eukaryotic virus-host interaction and evolution in Saccharomyces yeasts” (NSF award #1817816)). The students grow common yeast (S. cerevisiae) in a media containing an azole known to inhibit yeast growth. Successive generations of the most successful yeast are transferred to media with increasingly greater levels of azole. Students track the progression and return the final yeast cultures to Dr. Dunham’s lab for genetic sequencing. After the yeast’s genomes are sequenced, Dunham and her team return the results to the school and students research the mutations as part of their classwork.

The research enables students to observe how mutations in specific genes interact, and how correlated mutations lead to different changes in azole resistance. When the interactions are not additive, but are either greater or less than expected, it’s known as epistasis.

Pigmented yeast makes the research competitive and the experiments more visually exciting. In “yeast fights,” students observe the growth of differently colored yeasts to track which strains are more drug resistant. The colored yeasts come from the lab of Dr. Jef Boeke, also an MCB-funded researcher, and are developed by research assistants “playing” with yeast in their spare time. Some high school students call these colonies their “yeast babies” and, Dunham says, the students are excited to learn what genetic mutations are present in the final yeast colony.

The project itself has evolved, enabling the experiments to persist despite school closings caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. yEvo.org includes a step-by-step protocol and a form for requesting more information on how to participate.

Other collaborators include Dr. Ryan Skophammer, a biology teacher at Westridge School for Girls in Pasadena, CA, who initiated the idea by asking Dunham for a “real” science project for his class; Dr. Bryce Taylor, a yeast geneticist in Dunham’s lab who provides the genetic sequencing; and three undergraduate students. Rowley, the project’s co-investigator, runs yEvo labs in schools local to him in Idaho. “I feel like this is what a real scientist does,” wrote one student in response to a survey question. And indeed, it is just what real scientists do.

NEW FUNDING OPPORTUNITY: PREDICTING FUTURE PANDEMICS TO PROTECT OUR HEALTH, COMMUNITIES, AND ECONOMY

Reposted from our friends at BIO Buzz.

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.

An informational webinar will be held on July 13. Visit NSF Predictive Intelligence for Pandemic Prevention webinar for log-in information.

For additional information and the full proposal solicitation, visit Predictive Intelligence for Pandemic Prevention Phase I: Development Grants (PIPP Phase I).

If you have questions, please contact the cognizant Program Officers at PIPP@nsf.gov.

Research Experiences for Post-Baccalaureate Students in Biology (REPS) DCL

Reposted from our friends at the DEBrief Blog.

As noted on BIO Buzz, the blog of the Assistant Director for Biological Sciences (BIO), BIO has released a Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) to provide supplementary funding in support of recent college graduates who were not able to get research experience due to impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Research Experiences for Post-baccalaureate Students (REPS) supplemental funding requests will be reviewed for funding consideration upon receipt. To receive full funding consideration for FY2021, requests should be submitted by July 2, 2021. Supplemental funding requests submitted after that date will be considered if funds are available.

Below we provide answers to some pertinent questions regarding this opportunity. Full information on this invitation can be found on the NSF website at: https://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2021/nsf21085/nsf21085.jsp?org=NSF.

What is the eligibility requirement for PIs requesting a REPS supplement?
PIs with active awards from BIO (funded through DBI, DEB, EF, IOS, or MCB) are eligible to request supplements. Awards in no-cost extension are eligible, but if more time is needed to enable completion of the post-baccalaureate research, then another extension may need to be requested. Recipients of fellowship awards (GRFP or Postdoc fellowships) are not eligible to apply.

What is the eligibility requirement for participation in REPS?
The student must have graduated with a bachelor’s degree and must not currently be enrolled in another degree program. The goal of this DCL is to ameliorate effects of the pandemic on the ability for undergraduates to engage in research experiences. Priority should be placed on students who are from underrepresented groups or students who have not participated in any type of research experience. Proposers are also strongly encouraged to consider involving veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces.

Do participants have to be US citizens or permanent residents?
Yes.

Does the supplement request have to include the student’s identity at the time of submission?
Yes, please include information about the individual to be trained, for example, a biosketch or resumé, including their date or expected date of graduation. This information should be included in the “Justification for Supplement.” This opportunity is not intended to provide funds to PIs who would then advertise for a student to support. Rather, the student should have been identified before requesting the supplement. 

For additional information please reach out to the cognizant Program Officer on your award or one of the below REPS Program contacts:

  • Dr. Sally O’Connor, Program Director, Division of Biological Infrastructure, soconnor@nsf.gov
  • Dr. Paulyn Cartwright, Program Director, Division of Integrative Organismal Systems, pcartwri@nsf.gov
  • Dr. Marcia Newcomer, Program Director, Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences, mnewcome@nsf.gov
  • Dr. Chris Balakrishnan, Program Director, Division of Environmental Biology, cbalakri@nsf.gov