Dear Colleague Letter: Plant Synthetic Biology

A new Dear Colleague Letter (NSF 20-045) was released to highlight NSFs interest in supporting the plant synthetic biology community through already existing programs. The Biology and Engineering Directorates support the community through funding synthetic biology basic research, tool development and applications, and proposals that emphasize the potential outcomes with benefits to society.

Proposals can be submitted to the Divisions of: Integrative Organismal Systems (IOS), Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB), and Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental and Transport Systems (CBET). Proposals should be titled with the preface “PlantSynBio:” and submitted to the program most closely related to the proposed research. These programs all accept proposals without deadlines. For more information on topics of interest, contact information, and background see DCL 20-045.

MCB Workshop-based Webinars are Making a Difference

The Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences will host a series of workshop-based webinars on proposal writing for researchers at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) this June. While most of the information presented is applicable to any potential proposal-writer, the webinars focus on the Research Initiation Awards (RIA) and the Excellence in Research (EiR) tracks of the HBCU-Undergraduate Programs (HBCU-UP) solicitation NSF 20-542. The goal of the webinars is to foster relationships with principal investigators (PIs) at HBCU institutions and to increase the number and competitiveness of proposals submitted to the EiR track of the HBCU-UP solicitation (NSF 20-542). An invitation to participate will be emailed to every HBCU that lists a life-sciences department contact on its website.

A total of 79 unique participants from 32 unique HBCU institutions have participated in the two previous webinars, held in 2018 and 2019. Participants gain a deeper understanding of the merit review process, participate in a mock proposal review, discuss tips for writing strong proposals, and interact with program directors from all divisions in the Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO). 

Initially launched in 2018 by Dr. Casonya Johnson, a former program director in the Genetic Mechanisms cluster, the webinar has been well-received. Over 94% of the participants in last year’s workshop said they would recommend the workshop to a colleague. As a whole, the respondents agreed that they felt well prepared to develop a competitive proposal for submission to the National Science Foundation after completing the webinar. A preliminary analysis of proposal submissions from 2018 to 2019 finds that the percentage of proposals submitted by participating institutions rose from 7% in 2018 to 14% in 2019.

MCB continues to seek opportunities to help faculty and staff at under-represented institutions to increase the competitiveness of proposal submissions for all solicitations offered by MCB. Interested faculty are encouraged to contact their respective department chairs for registration details if they have not received information by April 8 or email mcbwebreg@nsf.gov. Details and registration information will also be posted here on the MCB blog.

Resources for Broader Impacts: The Center for Advancing Research Impact in Society

The Center for Advancing the Societal Impacts of Research (ARIS) provides resources to support broader impact (BI) activities. The center sponsors trainings, provides fellowships, hosts online resources, and disperses information for scientists who are interested in strengthening their BI activities. ARIS also hosts an annual planning summit; the 2020 summit is April 28-30 in Durham, North Carolina. Learn more and register on their website.

ARIS, headquartered at the University of Missouri-Columbia, works closely with national and international researchers to “build capacity, advance scholarship, grow partnerships and provide resources to help [scientists] engage with and demonstrate the impact of research in their communities and society”. To learn more about the Center and how to put ARIS resources to use for your broader impacts activities, check out the ARIS resources page.

ARIS builds from and leverages the success of the National Alliance for Broader Impacts (NABI), a project previously supported by the Biological Sciences and Mathematical and Physical Sciences Directorates at NSF (MCB-1408736). Now funded as a Center out of the Office of Integrative Activities (OIA-1810732), ARIS has expanded its size and scope to examine how “all research — including social science, art and humanities research — impacts society, and how society impacts the research enterprise.”

TOP FIVE OF 2019: MOST POPULAR POSTS OF THE YEAR

From broadening participation to increasing diversity and inclusion, MCB’s five most-viewed posts published in 2019 showcase our most read topics. Looking for ideas on how to improve your broader impacts? Read about Dr. Jewett’s BioBits kits. Interested in transitioning to a non-academic STEM career field? Dr. Cooper discusses how she ended up in university administration after a career as a researcher. New to NSF or interested in brushing up your reviewing skills? Read tips from MCB program directors on writing effective reviews.

In 2020, the MCB blog team looks forward to sharing information about exciting outreach efforts, funding opportunities, and more! Subscribe to notifications (on the right side of this page) to be the first to know what’s on MCB’s mind.

1. TEACHING CRISPR IN THE CLASSROOM: A NEW TOOL FOR TEACHERS

Students using BioBits kits.

Dr. Jewett developed a new method of teaching CRISPR – a gene editing tool – using BioBits kits. (Published June 7)

2. OPPORTUNITY AND INTENTION: NEVER SAY NEVER

Dr. Adrienne Cooper from Florida Memorial University.

Dr. Adrienne Cooper’s transition from STEM student to researcher to university administrator. (Published April 19)

3. HBCU-UP EIR: WEBINAR ON WRITING COMPETITIVE PROPOSALS

HBCU EiR Program graphic describing the solicitation.

MCB hosted a webinar on writing competitive proposals for faculty at HBCU institutions in March. (Published March 8)

4. BROADER IMPACTS — IF IT WORKS, KEEP DOING IT

High school and undergraduate student working together in O'Donnell Laboratory.

Dr. Allyson O’Donnell’s broader impact activity – “near peer mentoring” – pairs high school students from under-represented minorities with undergraduates in her lab. (Published June 27)

5. TIPS FOR WRITING EFFECTIVE REVIEWS

Tips for writing effective reviews infographic.

MCB Program Directors provide their top five tips for writing useful and informative reviews. (Published February 20)

MCB CAREER Awardee "Confab"

On October 28-29, 2019, the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB) hosted the first annual CAREER Awardees Conference, which was attended by 36 current principal investigators. The conference enabled awardees to share information on their research and broader impact programs with each other and NSF staff, discuss current and future directions in molecular and cellular biological sciences, and form new connections within the MCB CAREER awardee community.

The Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program is a National Science Foundation (NSF)-wide funding opportunity for early-career faculty. Recipients of the prestigious, five-year award are selected for their potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the missions of their respective departments or organizations.

The conference, anchored by seminars and a poster session, included activities to foster networking and stimulate collaborations amongst awardees. Program officers from each of the four divisions within the Directorate of Biological Sciences (BIO), as well as from the Directorate of Mathematical and Physical Sciences (MPS) and the Directorate of Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE), presented flash talks informing attendees about how MCB interfaces with other programs within NSF. Conference organizer Manju Hingorani (Program Director, Genetic Mechanisms cluster, MCB) noted that an important goal of the conference was for the attendees to come away with new ideas on advancing their research and educational programs.

The responses from attendees were overwhelmingly positive. “This has been a fantastic opportunity to meet other scientists across domains and feel better connected to the NSF,” said one. “Learning outside my area of expertise” was most rewarding, noted another. The conference gave one attendee “several new ideas that I am itching to try out. I also linked up with two to three people for potential collaborations” – a sentiment expressed by many others as well.

MCB plans to host this conference annually for CAREER awardees in their second and fifth years of the five-year award period in order to facilitate knowledge transfer between scientists at different points in their academic careers.  If you would like to find out more about the program, please visit the CAREER website. If you have questions or are interested in applying to the program, please contact a Program Director in MCB.

NSF BIO 2020 Distinguished Lecture Series

The first of four lectures hosted by the Directorate of Biological Sciences 2020 Distinguished Lecture Series will be held January 22, 2020, 11-12 PM Eastern Standard Time. Dr. Michael Lynch, Arizona State University, will present his talk, titled “Evolutionary Origin of Cell Biology’s Scaling Laws.”

Attendees may attend in person or virtually; in either case, registration in advance is required. Please visit the BIO BUZZ blog for details on registration or visit the  lecture series event page.

MCBBlog Has Two New Resource Pages

The MCBBlog has two new resource pages, Funding Opportunities and Office Hours.

Visit the funding opportunities page to see an up-to-date list of MCB funding opportunities, links to solicitations, dear colleague letters, and information from NSF divisions and directorates which may be of interest to MCB PIs.

Visit the Office Hours page for more information on MCB office hours, including: upcoming dates, registration links, and slides from presentations at prior office hour sessions. Attend a virtual office hours to hear POs discuss the topic of the week and answer participant questions on anything on their minds.

CHANGES TO THE EDGE SOLICITATION

The two tracks for submission to the “Enabling Discovery through GEnomic Tools (EDGE)” solicitation (NSF 20-532) have changed. EDGE now supports research in all BIO divisions — which includes the division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB).

The two tracks are titled “Functional Genomic Tools” and “Complex Multigenic Traits.”

The Functional Genomic Tools track combines the comprehensive and targeted tracks from the previous EDGE solicitation (NSF 19-527) and is intended for proposals aimed at developing tools for gene manipulation and/or phenotyping, analytical approaches or infrastructure to overcome one or more blocks to direct tests of gene function on demand.

The Complex Multigenic Traits track is for proposals focused on hypothesis-driven research to understand causal mechanisms connecting genomes and complex multigenic organismal phenomes across a variety of environmental, developmental, social, and/or genomic contexts.

Contact a relevant program director for more information. Read the full solicitation for submission guidelines. There is no letter of intent required and proposals are accepted at any time.

Supplemental Funding Pays

Did you know that supplemental funding awards are available to help cover unexpected costs that arise during the course of NSF-funded research? Supplements allow a Principal Investigator to accomplish the original scope of the parent award when unforeseen circumstances occur.  Read on to find out how a supplemental equipment award enabled Dr. Mechthild Pohlschröder to continue her research.

Dr Pohlschroder's graduate student in front of a microscope next to a computer with biofilm samples displayed on the screen
Dr. Pohlschröder’s graduate student Zuha Mutan using the new camera to examine biofilm samples.

As a professor and the undergraduate chair of the Department of Biology at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Pohlschröder’s lab investigates how archaea, specifically Haloferax volcanii, forms biofilms, a common phenomenon where microorganisms aggregate, allowing them to survive in harsh environments.

Earlier this year, when a neighboring lab moved to a new location on campus, the Pohlschröder lab lost access to shared resources, including a microscope camera used to capture high-quality images of cells and structures, an essential component of the research funded by NSF (NSF 1817518).  A supplemental award enabled the lab to purchase a Leica DFC9000 digital camera, enabling the Dr. Pohlschröder’s group to continue with their pioneering work on archaea.

The new camera will also benefit the lab’s outreach and educational activities, which have broader impacts in the surrounding community. Dr. Pohlschröder’s science education programs reach middle and high school students across the Philadelphia metro area, including in underserved schools in West Philadelphia. The lab develops microbiology experiments designed for schools with limited resources. Further strengthening its reach, the Pohlschröder lab hosts training workshops for science teachers from Philadelphia and other cities, so that good science can reach even more students. The new, state-of-the-art imaging technology will play a role in advancing all of these outreach activities.

If you currently have an award from MCB and are interested in learning more about supplemental funding, please contact a Program Director in MCB to discuss.