Author: nsfmcb

New Opportunity: Using the Rules of Life to Address Societal Challenges (URoL:ASC) 

Building on knowledge from previous investments in the NSF “Big Ideas,” Using the Rules of Life to Address Societal Challenges (URoL:ASC) (NSF 23-512) will support use-inspired research across a broad range of living systems to tackle pressing societal concerns.  

Examples of some societal challenges that may be addressed by URoL:ASC proposals are: climate change and associated risks, including geohazards, extreme events, and loss of biodiversity; environmental degradation, including impacts on land and water resources; inequalities in availability of and access to essential natural assets; lack of sustainability, including for food, energy, and waste production; and threats from pandemic disease,  

As in previous Big Idea solicitations, this new activity,   is a cross-directorate NSF program and will bring together interdisciplinary teams that span two or more NSF Directorates (BIO, CISE, EDU, ENG, GEO, MPS, SBE, and TIP).  

This solicitation differs in key respects from previous solicitations associated with the Understanding the Rules of Life Big Idea: 

  • It focuses on how rules of life can be used rather than discovered 
  • Proposals should begin with a description of broader impacts, articulating the expected outcomes of the research; 
  • Proposers must adopt a co-production strategy that involves both producers and users of the research outcomes in all phases of the research; 
  • Projects must integrate innovative education and training activities aimed at fostering convergent research;  
  • Projects should actively promote diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in all activities by involving members of underrepresented groups as PIs, co-PIs, postdoctoral researchers, students, and other personnel.  

FFull proposals are due February 15, 2023.  

Opportunities to Learn More 
NSF Program Directors representing the URoL:ASC program will hold a Virtual Office Hour on December 14th, 2022 from 2:00 PM ET to 3:00 PM ET

Please register for the webinar here: https://nsf.zoomgov.com/webinar/register/WN_rcG95iI9QOOed-VfarsHFQ  

Contact: URoL-ASC@nsf.gov  

DESIGNER CELLS WELCOMES PROPOSALS FOR THE THIRD YEAR 

In 2020, NSF’s Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences together with the Division of Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental and Transports Systems (CBET) in the Directorate for Engineering (ENG) and the Division of Social and Economic Sciences (SES) in the Directorate for Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences (SBE) launched a new solicitation, Designing Synthetic Cells Beyond the Bounds of Evolution (Designer Cells) NSF 21-531.  With this solicitation, NSF hoped to continue to support advances in building synthetic cells and leverage the success of programs like Understanding the Rules of Life: Building a Synthetic Cell. Projects submitted to the Designer Cells solicitation used synthetic biology to address at least one of the following research areas: 

  • identifying the minimal requirements for the processes of life; 
  • addressing fundamental questions in the evolution of life or exploring biological diversity beyond that which currently exists in nature; 
  • leveraging synthetic systems for innovative biotechnology applications.  

The program is now accepting proposals for its third cohort. The due date for proposals for the third year is February 1, 2023.  After this date, proposals will be accepted as core-program submissions to the Systems and Synthetic Biology cluster in MCB.  

In its first and second cohorts, the program made a total of 20 awards. These awards explored several exciting themes, including building synthetic organelles, synthetic approaches to information storage and decoding, strategies for genome transplantation, creating cells with new tunable properties, and studying the dark matter of the epitranscriptome. A full list of the Designer Cells awards can be found here.   

In the third year of the solicitation, Program Director Anthony Garza says that he “hopes to see proposals that continue to push to boundaries of what cells can do, either by adding in new functionality or minimizing cell components, while maintaining high function in synthetic cells.” 

BIO METAPROGRAM

The Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO)– and other directorates at NSF–have a long history of funding basic research that can be used address all sorts of societal challenges. For example, molecular-scale research that identified heat-tolerant enzymes from microbes in hot springs proved critical to the discovery of PCR, which is now widely applied for medical testing (like for COVID-19).  Another example, at the ecosystem scale, is research on fire regimes that is helping us learn how to mitigate the impacts of wildland fire on home, life, and the economy. 

NSF has now launched new webpages to help the research community connect our funding opportunities with three societally-relevant challenges the research might help address:  Biotechnology to Advance the U.S. Bioeconomy, Emerging Infectious Diseases and Life on a Warming Planet.  

The webpages can serve as a kind lens to envision how basic research could be applied or translated.  Also, because some of the research funding opportunities featured on the webpages cut across divisions in BIO and across other directorates, the information also provides a view of connections across the Foundation.  

For MCB PIs, we note that all four the MCB clusters–Cellular Dynamics and Function (CDF), Genetic Mechanisms (GM), Molecular Biophysics (MB), and Systems and Synthetic Biology (SSB)–welcome proposals addressing at least one aspect the three societal challenge areas. For example, CDF would support research advancing the understanding of how cells act and react as a dynamic machine to inform cell-based biotechnology; GM would be interested in research on causal relationships between genome structure and function to enable technological interventions aimed at controlling cellular responses to changing environments; MB would support research to develop new tools that enable, and demonstrate the limits of, prediction of viral evolution; and SSB would be interested in projects to engineer plant symbionts or plant microbiomes to enhance plant performance traits (e.g., growth, yield, and drought resistance).  

We invite you to explore the webpages to learn more about the topics and view funding opportunities, organized by directorate.  

As always, if you have a specific question about where your research might fit, we encourage you to reach out to a program director. If your research doesn’t fit under a program they manage, they can help you find the right program.

DON’T MISS THE DEADLINE!

PREPROPOSALS DUE SOON FOR A NEW SYNTHESIS CENTER FOR MOLECULAR AND CELLULAR BIOSCIENCES

Preproposals to establish a new Synthesis Center for Molecular and Cellular Sciences (SCMCS) are due January 13, 2023.

The center is envisioned to facilitate innovative synthesis and integration of available biological data and related scientific information to explain or predict complex molecular and cellular phenomena. The center will support synthesis of existing data by multi-disciplinary research teams with an overall goal to explain and predict how structural, functional and organizational knowledge of biomolecules in the cell relates to dynamic, phenotypic behavior. In pursuing this goal, the center is not expected to generate new primary data or replicate existing cyberinfrastructure.  Broadening participation and training of the next generation of scientists is expected to be central to these efforts.

For more information, refer to the solicitation and to the recording and slides associated with a recent webinar.  The webinar reviewed the elements of the center and answered questions on the preproposals, the role of the director, participation of foreign collaborators, review criteria for proposals and distribution of funding. 

In 2020, the NSF explored the idea of a synthesis center in a series of conferences.  Reports from those conferences can be found here.

Questions about the centers and the preproposal process can be directed to scmcs@nsf.gov or to the following cognizant program officers:

NSF BRC-BIO UPCOMING SUBMISSION DEADLINE

The Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB) would like to bring your attention to the upcoming deadline for an NSF program designed to support pre-tenure faculty, Building Research Capacity of New Faculty in Biology (BRC-BIO). The next submission window opens on December 1 and closes on December 31, 2022.

BRC-BIO (current solicitation NSF 22-500) is a BIO wide program that supports early career faculty in the development of a sustainable research program. Eligibility is limited to faculty at the Assistant Professor rank within 3-years of employment at an institution that is not among the nation’s most research intensive, which includes minority-serving institutions (MSIs) and predominantly undergraduate institutions (PUIs).

Proposed projects are expected to focus on research from any area of biology that is supported by the BIO directorate at NSF. MCB focused projects encompass content that falls within one of the four cluster areas: Cellular Dynamics and Function, Molecular Biophysics, Genetic Mechanisms, and Systems and Synthetic Biology.

Research applications require a six-page research plan, which includes both intellectual merit and broader impacts, a two-page Impact statement, and a letter from the Department Chair (or more senior organizational official). Projects should be presented in sufficient detail to enable evaluation based on the potential to: a) provide valuable new scientific insights that will enable future research, and b) integrate the research into an educational training environment that engages undergraduates in authentic research experiences. An additional expectation is that the broader impacts activities of these projects, including training, have a focus on inclusion and broadening participation in biological research.

Budget awards are for a maximum of 36 months and up to $450,000 plus $50,000 for equipment, for a total of $500,000 (including both direct and indirect funds). You are encouraged to reach out to program officers with any questions at BRC-BIO@nsf.gov.

Additional information, including past webinars and links to funded BRC-BIO awards, can be found here.

MCB WELCOMES LORETTA JACKSON-HAYES AND ISHITA MUKERJI 

Dr. Loretta Jackson-Hayes

What were you doing before you came to NSF?

I am a faculty member in the Department of Chemistry at Rhodes College in Memphis, TN. My research focuses on identifying and defining the roles of key proteins involved in fungal growth and cytokinesis using the model filamentous fungus, Aspergillus nidulans. Currently, the project centers on one of these proteins, the A. nidulans ortholog of the serine/threonine kinase Protein Kinase C (PkcA). The ongoing objectives of this project are to identify growth- and cytokinesis-related proteins, which are bound by PkcA in vivo and how the protein complexes work. We like to describe the work as defining a PkcA module that contributes to growth and cell division. My home institution is a primarily undergraduate college, so the bulk of the work is done by undergraduate students who perform experiments, help plan the next steps in the project, and even contribute to writing up the results.

What attracted you to work for NSF?

I’ve served as a panelist several times, and each time I’ve served, I found extreme satisfaction in reading grant proposals and writing reviews. I enjoyed the panel experience even more. Being involved in discussing proposals during panels allowed me to see how other scientists viewed the work, which gave me great insight into how projects are viewed from different perspectives. This has helped me critique my own work and research approaches, which I think has helped me develop as a scientist. My interactions with panelists and MCB staff were engaging, and MCB staff always made me feel welcomed. I’ve always found the MCB staff to be a supportive and fun group.

What would you tell someone who is thinking about serving as a Program Director at NSF?

I would recommend to anyone who might be considering serving as a Program Director to reach out to Program Directors to express interest in serving as a panelist, especially if they haven’t previously served. Panel service allowed me to get to know NSF well, become comfortable with MCB staff, and build relationships with many of the staff with whom I now work. This has made my transition to the job much smoother than I think it would have been had I not formed these relationships beforehand. Serving as a panelist also gave me valuable insights on the role of the Program Director that I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise, and this knowledge has given me a head start in adjusting to the job, now that I’m here.

When friends or colleagues find out that you work at NSF, what do they say or ask?

When I tell friends and family members that I work at NSF, they understandably imagine that I’m working in a state-of-the-art research lab, on the government’s most important and confidential projects. They seem to get extremely excited about that prospect. I, of course, let them know that the job doesn’t entail working in a research lab at all, and they typically respond with a slight tone of disappointment. However, their enthusiasm recovers when I say something like, “I’m helping to determine the science research agenda for the nation by identifying the most promising research that will advance society.” Family and friends agree with me that it’s really cool to have this amazing opportunity to do that work. Science colleagues are familiar with NSF’s mission, and they too are excited that I’ve been afforded this amazing opportunity to be an NSF Program Director.

Dr. Ishita Mukerji

What were you doing before you came to NSF?

I was working at Wesleyan University in Middletown CT.  At Wesleyan, I am in the Molecular Biology and Biochemistry Department, and I run our Molecular Biophysics program.

What attracted you to work for NSF?

NSF was very helpful to me early on in my career and I could see firsthand the impact that agency can have both on an individual and a field.  I am excited to learn more about the science that NSF funds and, of course, the new types of science NSF is hoping to catalyze through the various initiatives.  

What is your position and what are you most looking forward to?

I am a rotating program director (IPA) in the Molecular Biophysics cluster.  I am looking forward to giving back both to NSF and the Molecular Biophysics community.

What was your first impression of NSF? Has this impression changed since you began?

The NSF as an organization has been very welcoming, and everyone I’ve met and worked with has been helpful and friendly.  This impression has only been re-affirmed over the past couple of weeks that I’ve worked here. It’s been a little challenging to be completely remote and starting a new position.  I’m looking forward to relocating to the area and being in person a couple days a week.  My husband and I are just generally excited about moving to the area, as we’ve heard that DC is a really fun place to live.

MCB BIDS FAREWELL TO DAVID BARLEY AND WELCOMES MARIELLE ROBINSON  

David Barley joined NSF and MCB in 2008 as a student participant in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Talent Expansion Program. He advanced through the administrative ranks, serving in multiple capacities for MCB and other divisions in BIO. David is now a Program Support Manager in MPS/PHY.

What was the highlight of your time at BIO?

During my time in BIO, solving problems in panels was something I did on a regular basis.  I’d say a “highlight” of my time in BIO would be for a panel I supported in IOS.  On day one, the panel goes on as normal, the day concludes, we all go home.  Day two, I walked into the panel room to find that all the rental laptops we ordered had disappeared.  While Program Directors, panelists, and other staff were in shock, I immediately contacted the laptop rental company to determine what had happened.  Thankfully, the laptop company hadn’t wiped the computers yet, so all of the notes and panel summary templates were saved.  The company returned the laptops to NSF not too long after and set everything up again.

What would you tell someone who is thinking about working at NSF?

I’d tell newly incoming staff to be ready to learn and be ready to take advantage of opportunities as they arrive.  For PDs, this means reaching out across Clusters, Divisions (or Directorates) to find unique funding opportunities that may be relevant to their program’s needs.  For Administrative staff, I’d recommend joining a working group (especially NSF-wide working groups) as they give you a chance to meet staff outside of your direct team.  I learned a lot from working group discussions, especially when staff from other directorates explained how they accomplished the same goals as I did but used different tools and practices.

Marielle Robinson joined MCB as Program Assistant in August of 2022.

What were you doing before you came to NSF?

I was working as a federal contractor for the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) located in Arlington, VA.  I previously worked for AFOSR as a budget analyst technician and program analyst over my five-year span as a federal civilian.

What attracted you to work for NSF?

The work-life balance, new learning opportunities, and the endless possibilities of career advancements within the organization. 

What have you learned so far from your position?

I was able to attend the MCB Admin Staff Meeting, which was a wonderful introduction to the projects that are currently being worked on inside the MCB division. Even though I have been doing a lot of the required training on LearnNSF for my onboarding, I was able to gain valuable insight into what was to come, which made me eager to contribute some of my strengths to the team.

What has surprised you most about working at NSF?

The amenities offered within the building for employees.  This building is very different from my last job!  I also love how everyone is willing to assist with my onboarding process to make the transition go smoothly.  I’m very excited to meet more of the team within the BIO directorate and to work on my assigned duties.

France/US Lead Agency Funding Opportunity at Interface of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences and Physics

The NSF Directorate for Biological Sciences Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences and the Directorate for Mathematical and Physical Sciences Division of Physics in the (NSF/BIO/MCB and NSF/MPS/PHY) recently released a Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) entitled “ANR – NSF/MCB/PHY Lead Agency Opportunity at the Molecular and Cellular Biosciences – Physics Interface” (NSF 22-129). This DCL announces the continued collaboration between the French Agence Nationale de la Recherche (ANR) and NSF MCB and PHY divisions to support projects that use multidisciplinary approaches to examine mechanisms underlying essential life processes at the molecular, subcellular, and cellular scales. Proposals that use physics-based experimental and theoretical approaches are encouraged. Priority will be given to proposals that leverage unique resources and capabilities of partners in the U.S. and France.

For FY23, proposals should be submitted to ANR, and ANR will share proposal and review information with NSF.  To apply, a registration file (dossier) must be submitted by November 7, 2022. For full details on submission guidelines, program priorities, and contact information, see NSF DCL NSF 22-129 and ANR’s AAPG Generic Call 2023.

NSF issues a new funding opportunity on Quantum Sensing 

Through a new solicitation entitled Quantum Sensing Challenges for Transformational Advances in Quantum Systems (QuSeC-TAQS; NSF 22-630), NSF seeks to support interdisciplinary teams of three or more investigators to explore highly innovative, original, and potentially transformative research on quantum sensing.  The QuSeC-TAQS program aligns with recommendations articulated in the strategic plan, Bringing Quantum Sensors to Fruition, that was produced by the National Science and Technology Council Subcommittee on Quantum Information Science, under the auspices of the National Quantum Initiative

QuSeC-TAQS is a cross-cutting NSF funding opportunity for which the Biological Sciences Directorate is a key partner.  Research involving biological systems and/or participation of scientists from different fields of biology is encouraged. Research topics might include:  investigation of quantum phenomena in biological systems; use of quantum devices and approaches in the investigation of biological problems; or creation of new biocompatible quantum probes and sensing protocols to gain insights into complex biological systems that fundamentally cannot be accessed through classical measurements. Outcomes from such studies are expected to advance knowledge of biological functions and dynamics within cells and could potentially provide new platforms for biotechnology. 

Preliminary proposals are required and due December 16, 2022; and full proposals are due April 3, 2023. 

Additional questions should be directed to qusec@nsf.gov  

Agile BioFoundry Selects New Collaborations

Today, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) and the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences and the Division of Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental and Transport Systems at the National Science Foundation (NSF) announced the selection of six projects to conduct research and development that will advance the U.S. bioeconomy.

The selectees were chosen from applicants for a direct funding opportunity titled  “Accelerating Innovations in Biomanufacturing Approaches through Collaboration Between NSF and the DOE BETO funded Agile BioFoundry,” which provides support for researchers from institutions of higher education and nonprofits to collaborate with the Agile BioFoundry (ABF). Selected projects leverage the rapid prototyping and advanced biotechnology resources available at the ABF to accelerate basic research projects to deployment.

BETO and NSF have selected the following projects:

Both the NSF and BETO recognize the critical roles that synthetic and engineering biology play in advancing the U.S. bioeconomy. The selected projects all directly contribute to the production of renewable biochemicals and biofuels and build foundational technologies critical for the decarbonization of the industrial and transportation sectors.

Funded by BETO, ABF aims to advance biomanufacturing by uniting and expanding the capabilities of the national laboratories to offer a robust, agile biomanufacturing platform accessible to researchers across the private and public sectors.

ABF partners include Argonne National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories, and more than a dozen university and industry partners.

Need to Make a Change?

The Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB) would like to bring attention to the following two funding opportunities that are designed to support researchers who are seeking to enhance or change their research activity.   

The Mid-Career Advancement Program (MCA; NSF 22-603) is an NSF-wide program designed for PIs whose administrative and/or teaching duties have significantly hindered their research efforts. The program provides funds to release faculty from some of their non-research duties allowing them to pursue collaborations to gain new skills or resources and substantially enhance their research trajectory. The MCA Program is targeted primarily to Associate Professors; however, as part of a new pilot track, Full Professors at primarily undergraduate institutions (PUIs) are eligible to apply when submitting to the Biological Sciences or Geological Sciences Directorates. Budget-wise, MCA provides a total of 6.5 months of the PI’s salary over the course of the award, plus one month of summer support for each collaborative partner and $100,000 to the PI for other direct costs. Whereas the primary focus of the program is to support training that allows a PI to pursue a new research direction, support may also include graduate student training. The application requires a description of the research plan, a two-page Impact statement, a statement from the collaborator, and a letter from the Department Chair.   

The Transitions to Excellence in Molecular and Cellular Biosciences Research Program (Transitions; NSF 21-508) is an MCB program designed for PIs who have made productive contributions to a research area, but now would like to change or expand their research direction by acquiring new research or data analytic skills. The Transitions Program is tailored for Associate and Full Professors at any U.S. academic institution. The total maximum budget for a three-year Transitions Award is $750,000, which includes support for six months of the PI’s salary in the first, professional development (or sabbatical) year of the award and support for two subsequent years of research at the PI’s home institution.  Proposals for the Transitions Program must include a compelling professional development plan, as well as a letter of support from the Department Chair. PI’s have the option to include a letter of support from the host laboratory detailing the training plan for the PI.   

Attend the upcoming Virtual Office Hours, on October 12th from 2-3pm, to learn more about the MCA and Transitions Programs!   

Transitions to Excellence in  
Molecular and Cellular Biosciences  
Research (Transitions)
 
Mid-Career Advancement (MCA)
NSF 21-508 NSF 22-603 
MCB-specific solicitation Multiple participating programs across NSF 
Eligibility  Associate and Full Professors (or equivalent) Associate Professors (or equivalent) for at least 3 years and Full Professors at PUIs (BIO, GEO) 
Purpose Enables pursuit of new avenues of inquiry or expansion of research toward greater impact Enables increased research focus through protected time and collaborative partnerships 
Individuals SupportedSupports PI salary during sabbatical or similar leave plus 2 years research support Supports PI and collaborative partner salary with some support for research and training activities 
Notes for Successful Proposals Successful applicants will demonstrate a strong record of prior accomplishment and a compelling plan for moving the research in new (ideally cross-disciplinary) directions Successful applicants will demonstrate substantive benefit to their research and career trajectory, especially in cross-disciplinary directions 
Deadline Proposals are accepted at any time. Target Window: February 01 – March 01, 2023, and annually thereafter 
Maximum Budget $750,000 total over 3 years, including PI salary (6 mo.)  PI salary (6.5 mo.), collaborator salary (1 mo.), and $100,000 direct costs for research over 3 years