Author: nsfmcb

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

Research Experiences for Teachers Sites in Biological Sciences (BIORETS)

The BIORETS solicitation (NSF 21-584) seeks proposals that provide research experiences for groups of teachers in fields supported by the Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO). The research experiences are intended to be translated into curricular changes that have long-term impact on science education and encourage students to enter STEM-related professions.

A BIORETS project should provide a cohort of at least 8-10 middle school, high school, and/or community college STEM teachers with immersive, authentic research experiences in the biological sciences over a period of at least six weeks, typically during the summer.

Proposals submitted to this solicitation are strongly encouraged to involve PIs, co-PIs, postdoctoral fellows, students, and teachers who are members of groups that have been historically underrepresented in STEM, as well as teachers who serve in schools and educational settings with high proportions of students in such groups. Proposers are also encouraged to consider involving veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces as part of NSF’s broader effort to promote the participation of military veterans in STEM research and education.

Full proposals are due Aug. 2, 2021 and on July 31 of successive years. Proposals must be prepared and submitted via research.gov or grants.gov. Read the solicitation for all details. A virtual office hour focusing on the BIORETS solicitation will be held July 1 from 1-2 pm. A registration link is available on the MCB Office Hours page.

MCB BIDS FAREWELL TO DR. KAREN CONE

Dr. Karen Cone joined the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB) in January 2009 as a program director in what was known then as the Genes and Genome Systems Cluster, now known as Genetic Mechanisms. She now serves as science advisor for the Directorate for Biological Sciences.

“Karen has been an extraordinary colleague and mentor to new PIs in the community and to new Program Directors in MCB and across NSF,” says her former division director in MCB, Theresa Good. “We in MCB will all miss her scientific vision, her willingness to take risks to support new activities in both science and broader impacts, and her ability to clearly communicate to PIs, her peers, and NSF leadership about all aspects of NSF operations. We, however, know she will have an opportunity to contribute to a larger organization in her new role.” 

What was the highlight of your time in MCB?
Working in a friendly, supportive team environment has been a delight. Having the opportunity to interact with talented staff and fellow program directors to review and fund exciting science has been a rewarding experience. Another highlight has been the opportunity to engage with countless members of the scientific community.
One of the things I loved about my job as a faculty member was mentoring and advising, and I have loved having the opportunity to continue that work by talking with investigators about their research ideas and coaching them on how to get funded by NSF.

What has surprised you most about working at NSF?
When I first came to NSF, I was surprised by how much I didn’t know about the agency. I thought my many years of NSF experience—as a PI and a panelist—had provided me with unique insights. However, when I arrived, I discovered I knew very little about the behind-the-scenes work that goes into reviewing and making funding decisions on grant proposals. I was immensely grateful for the formal and informal training that helped me learn the ropes. I learned (again and again) that there is an answer for every question and a process for every eventuality. I also learned what an amazingly nimble agency NSF is; we have a huge array of mechanisms to fund good science. I tell prospective investigators all the time that if you can imagine an innovative scientific advance, we can probably figure out how to fund it!

What would you tell someone who is thinking about serving as a program director at NSF?
I would say do it! For me, this has been an amazing growth experience. I arrived as a well-trained geneticist with a background in microbiology, biochemistry, plant genetics, and genomics. Thanks to the many opportunities I have been given to engage with colleagues in programs at division, directorate and foundation levels, I am leaving MCB with a much deeper understanding and appreciation of the breadth of science funded across NSF. The experience has definitely made me a better scientist.

MCB BIDS FAREWELL TO BRIDGET JOHNSON

Bridget Johnson joined MCB in March 2018 as a program assistant. She became a program specialist in July 2019.

Former NSF employee, Bridget Johnson, standing in front of a National Science Foundation banner.

What is next for you after your time at NSF?

I have accepted a position as a life scientist at the Environmental Protection Agency in northern California. I will also continue to work part-time on my Master of Natural Resources degree from Virginia Tech. Although it’s sad to be leaving NSF, I’m grateful for the experience and look forward to this next step in my career.

What was working at MCB like?

MCB has been a great place to work. It’s a very collaborative, congenial environment with a dedicated staff. During these difficult times, the team has been particularly supportive of each other while adeptly continuing the agency’s mission. Another benefit of working in MCB is the snacks! When we were working physically in the office, there were always goodies shared at staff meetings and potlucks. I can only hope my future workplaces are as welcoming of sweet tooths.

What did you learn from your position?

I’m thankful that MCB gave me the chance to work at NSF, which has provided me a great transition into federal service. I gained experience in administration, event coordination, finance, and data analysis. I had the chance to work on a number of interesting projects, including the Synthetic Cell Ideas Lab, the webinar series for the Historically Black Colleges and Universities – Excellence in Research (HBCU – EiR) program, and NSF’s research collaboration with the United Kingdom Research Institute (NSF/BIO – UKRI/BBSRC). This year in particular has driven home the vital importance of funding science, and it was an honor to play a small role in support of that goal. I’m especially grateful for the professional relationships and friendships that I developed with NSF colleagues over the years.

Proposal submissions, Step One: Call a Program Officer and … say What?

Many researchers report that they are intimidated by the thought of calling a program officer (PO) to discuss their project proposal because they don’t how to initiate the conversation or what questions to ask. Program officers in the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB) recommend that principal investigators start by conducting background research on their project idea and send a one-page summary (see pp 10-13) before scheduling a call with a PO. An early conversation can help a researcher identify the most appropriate program and PO for a proposal. Below are some considerations for each step.

Some items you may wish to research before a phone call:

  • The current research portfolio of the program
  • Abstracts of funded projects related to yours
  • Award size, duration, and limitations of the solicitation
  • Any program specific requirements of the solicitation

A one-page summary should include: (be prepared to discuss these topics in depth during a phone call)

  • Your questions and specific aims
  • The big picture of your research area and knowledge gaps you are addressing
  • Key preliminary data and rationale
  • Overall intellectual merits and broader impacts
  • Any visuals that may be helpful

Possible topics and questions to bring up in a phone call:
Program fit:

  • Does my project fit this program?
  • What other programs or solicitations may be appropriate for my project?

Broader impacts:

  • Do my broader impacts fit NSF expectations?
  • What is the difference between broader impacts and broadening participation?
  • Do broader impacts and intellectual merits need to be integrated? Are mine sufficiently integrated?
  • Should I structure broader impacts and intellectual merit plans in the same way?

Specifics of proposal preparation:

  • Are my preliminary data in line with what the program expects?
  • To what extent should I describe results from prior support?
  • What kinds of equipment costs can be requested?
  • How much salary can I ask for myself, postdoc, or graduate student?
  • Do I have to include undergraduates in participant support costs?
  • What is the best way to fund a collaboration?
  • Can I submit the same proposal to another funding agency?
  • How long does the review process take?
  • Can I be funded by the same NSF program for two different projects?
  • What kinds of direct costs are allowable in budget line G6 Other?

NSF’s review process:

  • When is a good time to submit a proposal, given that there is no deadline?
  • Will the reviewers be experts in my field?
  • When should I expect a decision?
  • What are my options if my proposal is declined?
  • Will my declined proposal be evaluated by the same reviewers in the next round?

Did you know?

MCB holds virtual office hours on topics specific to the MCB research community once each month. Visit this page to register for upcoming events and to access past presentations. For more information on working with Program Officers, read this NSF 101 post on NSF’s Science Matters blog.



2021 HBCU-EIR INFORMATIONAL WEBINARS: VIDEO RECORDING AND SLIDES AVAILABLE

This month, the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB) held informational webinars reviewing relevant highlights of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities – Excellence in Research (HBCU-EiR) solicitation (20-542). The webinars provided an overview of the solicitation, best practices for submitting competitive proposals, and an introduction to the four divisions of NSF’s Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO).

To watch the webinar recording, click here (access passcode: wyc^Jh9F).

To view the slides from the presentation, click here:

Additionally, in June 2021, MCB will provide webinar-based, interactive workshops on proposal-writing and the merit review process to HBCU faculty and staff who have registered for the workshop and submitted required pre-work. Since 2018, MCB has provided these workshops to HBCU institutions. Preliminary data indicates that participants who attend the webinar-based workshop tend to submit stronger proposals that are funded at higher rates than non-participants.

If you work at an HBCU and are interested in participating in the June workshops, request a registration form via email at MCBwebreg@nsf.govRegistration deadline is Thursday, May 6, 2021. Please share this information with appropriate faculty and staff.