New Solicitation: Designing Synthetic Cells Beyond the Bounds of Evolution (Designer Cells)

A new solicitation (NSF 21-531) invites proposals that use cell design technology to address questions regarding the fundamental processes of life, the evolution of life, and biological diversity beyond extant processes and organisms. Proposals which use this technology for novel biotechnology applications are also welcomed. The goal of this solicitation is to support innovative research that develops and uses synthetic cell-like systems or cells to address at least one of the following themes:

  1. identify the minimal requirements or minimal functional units for the processes of life;
  2. address fundamental questions in the evolution of life on Earth or to explore biological diversity beyond that which currently exists in nature;
  3. provide new functionalities for innovative biotechnology applications.

Proposals submitted to this solicitation should address social, ethical, and safety issues associated with designing and building synthetically modified cells as an integrated component of the project.

Full proposals are due February 16, 2021 and on February 1 annually thereafter via Research.gov. Full solicitation requirements, program priorities, and contact information for program officers can be found in the solicitation NSF 21-531.

Adding Impact to your Broader Impacts: Office Hours with ARIS

Join program officers from the Directorate for Biological Sciences in a discussion of Broader Impacts with guest speaker Susan Renoe from the NSF-supported Center for Advancing Research Impact in Society (ARIS).

ARIS works with scientists to help them engage in activities that have meaningful and long-term impact in their communities and society. The center offers strategies for building capacity, growing partnerships, and leveraging existing resources to enhance the impact of individual and institutional efforts to benefit society.

Topic: How to Ensure That Your Broader Impact and Broadening Participation Plans Have IMPACT

Guest Speaker: Dr. Susan Renoe, Executive Director, ARIS (NSF award 1810732).

Time: Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2 pm – 3pm EST.

Registration is required: Click here and select the November 18, 2020 option from the drop-down selection for “Time.”

Visit the Office Hours page of this blog for access to presentations from previous office hours.

Webinar Announced for Mid-Scale Research Infrastructure-1 Program

On Wednesday, November 4, 2020 and Thursday, November 5, 2020, NSF will host outreach webinars with information about the Mid-Scale Research Infrastructure (Mid-scale RI)-1 funding opportunity (NSF 21-505). 

The Mid-scale RI Big Idea is intended to provides an agile, Foundation-wide process to fund experimental research capabilities in the mid-scale range ($6 million to $100 million), between the Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) and Major Facilities thresholds.  Recently, the solicitation (NSF 21-505) for the Mid-scale RI-1 program (for infrastructure with total project cost of $6 million up until, but not including, $20 million) was published with a deadline of January 7, 2021 for preliminary proposals.

Each session will begin at 1:00 p.m. (EST) and have two parts: a general Mid-scale RI-1 information session (1:00 p.m. -1:40 p.m. EST) with Q&A followed by Directorate-specific breakouts (1:45 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. EST) where more technical questions will be addressed. The information presented on Day 1 will be the same as the information presented on Day 2.

To participate in the main session and the BIO breakout on either Day 1 (November 4) or Day 2 (November 5), please use the links below:

Mid-Scale Research Infrastructure (Mid-scale RI-1): NSF 21-505 Q&A – Main meeting
1:00 p.m. – 1:40 p.m. EST
Join ZoomGov Meeting: https://nsf.zoomgov.com/j/1614702269?pwd=djl0Z2hnU3I3QXNiRHYraitMclhjZz09
Meeting ID: 161 470 2269
Passcode: 5i8ELv

BIO Directorate Breakout
1:45 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. EST
Join ZoomGov Meeting: https://nsf.zoomgov.com/j/1605815851?pwd=THJGL3JIYjRYdGVoQ3VzT08rQitOZz09
Meeting ID: 160 581 5851
Passcode: g&2Xz!

Reposted from DBIInfo

DCL 21-017: Conferences to Prepare for the Transformation of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences Research through Information Synthesis and Integration

The field of molecular and cellular biosciences has generated vast amounts of knowledge about cellular parts and processes through advances in biophysical, -omics, and imaging technologies, among others. The work of synthesizing this information, such as harmonizing and collectively interpreting divergent datasets, developing new analytical approaches and tools, building models and theories, and integrating knowledge from within and across various disciplines, can have a transformative impact on all of biology.

NSF has a history of supporting information synthesis through large scale centers, such as the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent), that have engaged thousands of investigators over 10-year investment periods and have led to striking advances in their fields.

To begin planning for a synthesis center, the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences has released a Dear Colleague Letter (NSF 21-017) announcing the availability of conference funding to build networks of scientists with diverse perspectives to formulate ideas for a synthesis center in molecular and cellular sciences. To be considered for FY 2021 funding, proposals responsive to this DCL should be received before April 21, 2021. Proposals will be awarded on a rolling basis. Important details about preparing and submitting a competitive conference proposal are included in the announcement.

Future Topics for the NSF Convergence Accelerator: NSF Wants Your Ideas

Your ideas must meet:
Significant national-scale societal impact.
Be built upon basic research.
Convergence research approach.
Submissions are due November 9, 2020.

NSF Wants Your Ideas! Requesting Future Topics for the NSF Convergence Accelerator

The NSF Convergence Accelerator has issued a Dear Colleague Letter (NSF-21-012): Request for Information on Future Topics for the NSF Convergence Accelerator to capture national-scale societal impact ideas from the global community for fiscal year 2022. The request for information (RFI) is the kickoff of the Convergence Accelerator’s ideation process. The providers of selected ideas will be asked to submit a conference proposal to further develop the proposed idea and to gather insights for a final report to assist NSF in determining convergence research topics for 2022.

Participants from academia, industry, government, non-profit, and other sectors are encouraged to submit their ideas at https://bit.ly/31sNzDg. Responses to the RFI are due by November 9, 2020.

Upcoming Webinars for RFI
Interested individuals may join the Convergence Accelerator on October 21 or 27, 2020 to learn about the program’s ideation process, specifically focusing on the FY 2022 RFI on future topics. Attendees will learn about the Convergence Accelerator’s model and fundamentals, designed to leverage a convergence approach to transition basic research and discovery into practice. Through this program, fundamental knowledge generated by MCB-supported science can be transitioned to address complex societal issues.

The goal of this webinar is to bring awareness of this exciting opportunity to accelerate NSF-funded research and discovery to further societal impact.

Wednesday, October 21, 2-3:30 p.m. (ET)
To register, visit https://bit.ly/NSFCA_Oct21_RFIWebinar

Tuesday, October 27, 2-3:30 p.m. (ET) 
To register, visit https://bit.ly/NSFCA_Oct27_RFIWebinar

After registering a confirmation email containing the meeting information, including how to join will be provided. 

For additional information on the NSF Convergence Accelerator program, visit https://www.nsf.gov/od/oia/convergence-accelerator/ or email C-Accel@nsf.gov.

MCB Welcomes Sonam Ahluwalia, Matthew Buechner, and Adrienne Cheng

Sonam Ahluwalia joined the division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB) as a program assistant in August 2020.

What is your educational background?

I have an undergraduate degree in biology and a minor in conservation studies. I enjoy teaching the relevance of biological mechanisms in sustainable agriculture, which led me to join the Peace Corps in Madagascar before joining NSF.

What was your first week in MCB like?

My first week was exciting meeting all the amazing staff members. The entire staff shared their warm welcomes and made it easier to onboard completely virtually.  

How has your relocation to the area gone?

This is an interesting question because I have not relocated since NSF staff will be working remotely until further notice. Starting a new position virtually has been an interesting journey! It is a little odd meeting coworkers two-dimensionally. However, it has been pleasant working from home without the stress of moving just yet.

Matthew Buechner joined MCB as a program officer in the Cellular Dynamics and Function (CDF) cluster in September 2020.

What were you doing before you came to NSF?

I am an associate professor at the University of Kansas in the beautiful historic college town of Lawrence, where I taught Microbiology and Cell & Developmental Biology. Micro is fun to teach; there’s a unique sound when 350 voices gasp in unison when you show a slide of some horrible infection, kind of like “the wave” in a stadium.

My research looks at how a single cell changes its shape from a round ball (more or less) to form long hollow tubes, by looking at the genes involved in the tiny (1 mm long) roundworm C. elegans. The results tell us how genes and proteins work together to move parts of the cell around (vesicles and cytoskeleton) to create the wide variety of cells in animals, including the tiny blood vessels and kidney tubules in our bodies.

What attracted you to work for NSF?  

After being on panels, I served at NSF as a Visiting Scientist, Engineer and Educator (VSEE) program officer in the Developmental Biology program in the division of Integrative Organismal Systems (IOS) from 2015 to 2017, and it was a blast! The excitement of reading so many imaginative ideas was thrilling, and they invigorated my own lab’s research. It was also great to work as a team with so many dedicated staff members at all levels to fund as much of that thrilling research as we could.

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

Do it! You’ll learn a lot about your field and on writing grants, get to have fun while working with bright colleagues…and avoid the departmental squabbles over space, funding, and getting grad students, which are inherent to academia.  Running a panel is a thrill like little else:  exhausting, intellectually challenging, and rewarding.

Adrienne Cheng joined MCB as an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Fellow in September 2020.

What is your educational background?

I completed my bachelor’s in environmental studies and biology in 2011, followed by an MPH in environmental health sciences, and I received my PhD in nutritional sciences in 2019.

What was your first week in MCB like?

So far it has been great! I spent the majority of my first week in meetings as well as meeting people in the division.

What are some of the challenges you have faced so far?

Getting to know the office culture and learning all of the software in a virtual manner has been a little difficult, but everyone has been accommodating and understanding. It’s also going to take me a while to remember all of the acronyms….

How has your relocation to the area gone?

As good as it can be! Roads are a little busier than I’m used to, but other than that things couldn’t have gone smoother.

MCB-awardee receives Nobel Prize in Chemistry

The Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB) joins the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the scientific community in congratulating Dr. Jennifer Doudna and Dr. Emmanuelle Charpentier on their 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. The two were awarded the prize jointly “for the development of a method for genome editing.” A little over a decade ago, MCB awarded Dr. Doudna the first in a series of grants to explore Mechanisms of Acquired Immunity in Bacteria (MCB 1244557).  “It is wonderful to see the fruits of Dr. Doudna’s work, initially enabled by NSF investment in discovery-driven research, which is reaping many societal benefits” said Dr. Basil Nikolau, MCB Division Director. 

“CRISPR-Cas9 is opening new worlds of possibility in fields as wide-ranging as bioengineering, medicine, agriculture, and biomanufacturing. Researchers are still working to understand the full potential of this important tool,” said National Science Foundation Director Sethuraman Panchanathan. “The teams behind this groundbreaking discovery have uncovered and developed fundamental science that will result in decades’ worth of applications. NSF has long supported the discovery-driven research of Dr. Jennifer Doudna and her lab with grants, including our prestigious Alan T. Waterman award. We congratulate her and Emmanuelle Charpentier and join the rest of the world in waiting to see what CRISPR produces next,” said Dr. Panchanathan in a news release.

From the AD: BIO “No-Deadline” Solicitations Migrating to Research.gov

As part of NSF’s ongoing efforts to innovate and migrate proposal preparation and submission capabilities from FastLane to Research.gov (see Important Notice No. 147), the Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) has announced that proposal submissions for our “no-deadline” programs will migrate to Research.gov beginning with revised solicitations to be released in the near future. This change was announced in a Dear Colleague Letter (NSF 20-129) released today and is the first phase of a migration of all NSF solicitations to Research.gov.

Specifically, the following programs will have new solicitations published in the coming weeks at which point investigators should begin submitting proposals through Research.gov. There will be a grace period of 90-days from the date on which the new solicitations are published during which proposals can still be submitted through FastLane. After the 90-day period, the new solicitations will no longer be available in FastLane and any new proposals must be submitted through Research.Gov (or Grants.Gov).

The programs whose solicitations will migrate from FastLane to Research.gov are:

Research.gov improves the user experience while also reducing administrative burden. The system is also flexible enough to meet both users’ changing needs and emerging government requirements. A significant fraction of proposals is already being submitted through Research.gov and investigators report it to be intuitive to use. We do not anticipate that the change to Research.gov will have significant impacts on the submission process. This migration will not affect the merit review process in any way.

To support the community through this migration, technical support and FAQs and videos on proposal submission through Research.gov are available. In addition, we are offering a series of BIO-wide virtual office hours during which you can ask questions of BIO Program Officers.

The virtual office hours will occur on Monday, October 19 at 11 a.m. EDT; Tuesday October 20 at 10 a.m. EDT; Wednesday, October 21 at 1 p.m. EDT; and Thursday, October 22 at 3 p.m. EDT. Members of the community can register for these sessions via NSF.gov.

Finally, if you have any immediate questions please reach out to BIOnodeadline@nsf.gov, which is monitored by Program Officers from across BIO.

Sincerely,

Image of the signature of Dr. Joanne Tornow, Assistant Director for Biological Sciences

Joanne S. Tornow, Ph.D.

Assistant Director

Repost from DBI: Biology Integration Institutes (BII) Program Revised Solicitation

The Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) has released a revised solicitation (NSF 20-601) under the Biology Integration Institutes (BII) Program. Revisions to the solicitation include the elimination of both the “Design” track and the requirement to submit a Letter of Intent. In addition, there is an earlier submission deadline of January 13, 2021.

Launched this year, this program supports collaboration of researchers investigating multiple disciplines within and beyond biology. Visit the blog from the Division of Biological Infrastructure to learn more about the program and recently funded institutes.