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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.

New Collaboration between NSF and the French Agence Nationale de la Recherche (ANR)

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has established an agreement on research cooperation with the French Agence Nationale de la Recherche (ANR). The Dear Colleague Letter, titled, “NSF/Physics/MCB Lead Agency Opportunity at the Physics – Molecular and Cellular Biosciences Interface” (NSF 20-120), encourages collaboration between the U.S. and French research communities.

Two NSF divisions – the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB) and the Division of Physics (PHY) – are participating in this collaboration. Proposals must address the research priorities of each of the participating entities: ANR, MCB, and PHY. Proposals that use multidisciplinary approaches that emphasize quantitative, predictive and theory driven science aimed at understanding mechanisms underlying essential life processes at the molecular, subcellular and cellular scales are sought. Priority will be given to proposals that leverage unique resources and capabilities of partners in the U.S. and France.

A registration file (dossier) must be submitted by December 1, 2020. For full details on submission guidelines, program priorities, and contact information, see DCL NSF 20-120.

BIO Renews Collaboration with UKRI/BBSRC

a colorful abstract picture on a black background

The National Science Foundation’s Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) is renewing its collaboration with the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), described in Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) NSF 20-118.

Titled “UKRI/BBSRC-NSF/BIO Lead Agency Opportunity in Biological Informatics, Microbes and the Host Immune System, Quantum Biology and Synthetic Cell,” the DCL describes four new topical areas associated with the lead agency opportunity. The lead agency scheme allows for reciprocal acceptance of peer review through unsolicited mechanisms and helps reduce some of the current barriers to international collaborations.

There is a two-part application process: a letter of Intention to Submit (due October 21, 2020) will be reviewed for project eligibility. Eligible proposals will then be invited to submit to the appropriate lead agency program. Refer to the DCL for important details.

Projects must be a collaboration between at least one investigator in the US and one in the UK, must address the priorities of both UKRI/BBSRC and appropriate NSF/BIO divisions, and must address the topical areas identified in the DCL. Additionally, proposers must provide a clear rationale for the need for a US-UK collaboration, including the unique expertise and synergy that the collaborating groups will bring to the project.

For full details on submission guidelines, program priorities, and contact information, see DCL NSF 20-118. Please also see this NSF announcement about the collaboration.

Photo credit: agsandrew/Shutterstock.com

NSF releases call for cross-disciplinary teams to investigate AI to Advance Biology

NSF has released a new solicitation for National Artificial Intelligence (AI) Research Institutes (NSF 20-604). The solicitation involves multiple NSF Directorates, including BIO, other federal agencies, and corporations such as Amazon and Google. It also includes a call for AI to Advance Biology (Theme 7).

This Institute theme seeks bold AI-based advances and information infrastructure to push the frontiers of biology, increase our understanding of complex systems, and provide a theoretical basis for original research across the biological sciences. Examples of challenges and activities under the theme are included in the solicitation.

Since such applications of AI to biological problems will ultimately require observation and hypothesis testing, the Institute should incorporate directed efforts to build transdisciplinary teams made up of researchers led or co-led by biologists with appropriate domain knowledge as well as AI researchers and data scientists. Education should be a key component of an Institute and the proposal should include plans to train a unique group of scientists with skills in modern biological sciences and AI who will be capable of leveraging knowledge and technologies to further advance both disciplines and stimulate applications that drive the bioeconomy.

The deadline for proposals is December 4, 2020. To learn about upcoming webinars and to see a list of program officers, visit the AI Institutes program page.

For background on the AI Institutes program, read the post on NSF’s Science Matters blog or read the announcement of recent awards under the program from the White House.

Virtual Reality, Real Science

A student wearing virtual reality goggles sits inside the exhibit titled "Unbecoming Carbon."

When Dr. Iris Meier develops the lab component of a research-focused biology class that she co-teaches each year, titled Art and Science, she knows what the students are expected to learn
. . . during the first half of the semester. The second half depends upon the students: How will they combine their diverse interests and talents to create an artistic experience capable of changing the way participants view biological processes?

Meier approaches each semester by structuring course content around her current NSF-funded proposal. The first few weeks of class introduce biology students and students from the Art and Technology track within the Department of Art at Ohio State University to biology by having them conduct simple experiments. Next, students design and conduct their own experiments. Then, equipped with a deeper appreciation for the topic, the class develops its final project.

In 2019, that project, “Unbecoming Carbon,” used virtual reality to allow participants to enter a leaf pore as a carbon dioxide molecule and then travel through the plant’s biochemical processes to observe how the plant eventually emits molecules of oxygen. The exhibit was funded as a broader impact activity included with her award, “Function and Mechanism of Action of Plant-specific LINC Complexes in Pollen Tube and Guard Cell Biology” (MCB- 1613501).

Meier’s lab studies the structure and function of the plant nuclear envelope, with a focus on understanding the function of the LINC complex. Meier maintains an ongoing collaboration with Amy Youngs, associate professor in the Department of Art, to support the broader impacts activities.

Each year, the exhibits take about five weeks to develop and are open to the public for about three weeks. Assessments are conducted via a survey once participants leave the exhibit. But do they really learn anything? Meier thinks so: “My favorite interview is the visitor who said, ‘This is so cool! I’ll remember [this experience] my whole life, but if you had told me about this, I would have forgotten it in two minutes!’”


*Photo/Video by Amy M. Youngs
*Artwork by Ellie Bartlett, Jacklyn Brickman, Ashley Browne, Amanda Buckeye, Diva Colter, Mona Gazala, Youji Han, Saba Hashemi Shahraki, Brice Jordan, Liam Manning, Iris Meier, Brooke Stanley, Lily Thompson, Zachary Upperman, Stephen White, Taylor Woodie, and Amy Youngs

MCB BIDS FAREWELL TO MYESHIA SHELBY AND DR. REYDA GONZALEZ-NIEVES

photo of Myeshia Shelby, summer intern

Myeshia Shelby joined the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB) in June as an intern through the National Science Foundation (NSF) Summer Scholars Internship Program and the Quality Education for Minorities (QEM) Network.

How did your time at NSF influence how you will go forward with your research?
This virtual experience at NSF has allowed me to demonstrate a flexibility in my productivity. The resources and contacts I obtained during my time here will be a part of my professional growth as I pursue my doctoral degree.

What did you learn from your position?
Initially, my position as a student intern was described as an opportunity to discover areas for professional development. As the program continued, I began to realize that my unique perspective as a student researcher could be pivotal in giving NSF staff an idea of how their funding decisions could possibly impact students, especially minorities at minority-serving institutions. 

What personal goals did you accomplish while at NSF?
In the beginning of the program, I constructed an Individual Development Plan that outlined the areas I wanted to grow in. Of those, the most important area where I experienced growth was in my networking abilities and my ability to succinctly communicate across multiple disciplines.

As a Summer Scholars Intern, what was your project and were there any challenges?
The title of my SSIP project is “NSF-Funded Discoveries and Innovations that Impact the Bioeconomy.” This project focused on principal investigators who received NSF funds for basic/fundamental research as well as application development awards through the Division of Industrial Innovation and Partnerships (IIP). The biggest challenge for me was being able to capture the impact that research findings have had on the bioeconomy and on advancements in basic research.

Dr. Reyda Gonzalez-Nieves joined MCB as a biologist under the Presidential Management Fellows Program in April, 2014, and transitioned to the role of division operations manager in July, 2016. She now serves as directorate operations officer for the Directorate for Biological Sciences.

What was working at MCB like?
MCB opened the door for me to start my professional career. When I completed my Ph.D., I decided to pursue a non-academic career in science. I wanted to use the skills I gained in graduate school in a different way. More importantly, I wanted to still be involved in science and contribute to it. MCB offered the perfect place to fulfill my goal. The staff in MCB is simply amazing – everyone is warm, fun, smart, dedicated, loyal, respectful, and ambitious. They work diligently to move the mission of NSF forward. I can say without a doubt that MCB has been one of the greatest places I have ever worked. During my time in MCB, we worked hard to create an environment of camaraderie, mutual respect, and positivity. It has been of the best professional experiences in my life. My time in MCB showed me what teamwork looks like and shaped my professional career journey.

What personal goals did you accomplish while at the NSF?
I started my journey at NSF as a Presidential Management Fellow. My first job in MCB was serving as a biologist. My long-term goal was to utilize my skills at a larger scale. I wanted to create a culture in the office where staff felt comfortable and appreciated as well as serve as a resource for senior leadership. I wanted to supervise staff and help them grow in their professional career.

I transitioned from the biologist role to the operations manager (OM) in MCB. That gave me the opportunity to supervise a group of amazing administrative professionals and understand how to run the operations in a division. As the OM, I worked directly with MCB’s senior leadership and my counterparts in the other BIO divisions. It was a unique opportunity that helped me decide what I wanted to do next. After being in the role for a few years, I was ready to take the next step in my career. I am now the operations officer for the Directorate for Biological Sciences. My journey to this point was not easy, but it was well worth it. For everyone who is reading this: set a goal and work on it little by little every day. The goal can be short or long term. Even if it seems impossible, work on it. Seek advice and ask for help. More importantly, do what is right for you.

MCB thanks Myeshia Shelby and Dr. Reyda Gonzalez-Nieves for their service and wishes them all the best in their future endeavors.