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MCB ANNOUNCES THE SECOND VERSION OF SENTINELS: DREAM SENTINELS

MCB has replaced the Dear Colleague Letter (DCL), Sentinel Cells for the Surveillance and Response to Emergent Infectious Diseases (NSF 20-105) with a new DCL:  

Sentinel Systems that Detect, Recognize, Actuate, and Mitigate Emergent Biological Threats (DREAM Sentinels).

In this new Sentinels DCL, MCB again partners with the Directorate for Engineering’s Division of Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental and Transport Systems to call for proposals to be submitted to core programs that address novel synthetic biology approaches to quickly sense and respond to the next emergent biological threat prior to its evolution in its host or transmission to human populations.

All proposals submitted in response to this DCL should include biosensing and bioactuation elements that address a biological threat. The biosensing element should leverage the power of modern biotechnology and deliver robust and specific recognition of the biological threat. The results of bioactuation should alert the user, destroy the threat, protect the host, or initiate an immune response or other strategies that would mitigate the threat. Other possible areas of interest are included in the DCL.

Proposals submitted in response to this DCL should have a title prefaced with “DREAM Sentinels:”. Proposals should be submitted to the Systems and Synthetic Biology cluster where proposals are accepted without deadline and are reviewed as they are received.

Investigators interested in submitting a proposal are strongly encouraged to contact Anthony Garza, aggarza@nsf.gov. More information on the DCL can be found here.

It is anticipated that up to $3,000,000 will be allocated annually for DREAM Sentinels awards, subject to the availability of funds.

BIOTECHNOLOGY/BIOECONOMY WORKSHOPS ADDRESS CRITICAL NATIONAL NEEDS RELEVANT TO NSF REGIONAL INNOVATION ENGINES

The Directorates for Biological Sciences (BIO), Engineering (ENG) Geosciences (GEO), Mathematical and Physical Sciences (MPS) and Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences (SBE), in collaboration with the Directorate for Technology, Innovation and Partnership (TIP), have led a series of workshops that catalyzed community engagement in topics relevant to the Regional Innovation Engines (Engines) funding opportunity that seeks to expand our Nation’s innovation capacity and enhance the Nation’s economic and industrial competitiveness.

The workshops focused on topics that addressed how advances in biotechnology and other fields could advance the U.S. bioeconomy to solve pressing societal problems.  Workshops were facilitated by University Industry Demonstration Partnerships (UIDP) and brought together stakeholders from academia, industry, government, and private foundations.

More information and links to the workshop reports can be found below.

A final workshop on Innovation Ecosystems for Adaptive Sustainable Health  will be held on May 10-11, 2022.

Once finalized, all workshop reports will be made available on the UIDP website, check back here for more information.

Common topics discussed in the workshops that are crucial in establishing successful Engines include:

  • Advancements in fundamental science and technology
  • Developing data repositories on shared and standardized platforms
  • Working across the value chain to translate innovation into impact
  • Identifying best practices in establishing partnerships and stakeholder engagement
  • Collaborating with social scientists to ensure effective messaging that fortifies public trust of new technologies
  • Establishing a resilient and sustainable supply chain
  • Establishing robust cross-disciplinary training and education programs

Learn more about the Engines Program
Individuals interested in Regional Innovation Engines should consult the Broad Agency Announcement – including the FAQs, which lay out possible topics of interest.  Also, consider attending the webinars hosted by the TIP Directorate, the first of which is May 17, at 1 PM EDT. The link for registration is here.

Upcoming Webinar: Building Research Capacity of New Faculty in Biology (BRC-BIO)

Please join the Building Research Capacity of New Faculty in Biology (BRC-BIO) program for a webinar on Tuesday, May 10th, 2021 from 3:00 PM – 4:00 PM EDT. There will be a short presentation, followed by an open Q&A session with cognizant Program Officers.

BRC-BIO is a new NSF program intended to enhance research capacity and broaden participation among new faculty of biology at minority-serving institutions (MSIs), predominantly undergraduate institutions (PUIs), and other universities and colleges that are not among the nation’s most research-intensive and resourced institutions.

Some key information from the solicitation:

  • Principal investigators must be at the Assistant Professor rank (or tenure-track equivalent) with service for no more than 3 years at their current institution by the submission date.
  • Proposed projects should help enable the establishment of research programs that will be competitive for future research proposals to the NSF (e.g., CAREER) or other agencies. Projects should enrich undergraduate research experiences and thereby grow the STEM workforce.
  • Projects can include biology-focused research collaborations among those in academia, or partnerships with industry or other non-academic partners that advance the PI’s research program. 
  • Next submission window:  June 01 – June 30, 2022

Please register in advance for the webinar below, and share this invitation with anyone you think may be interested:

https://nsf.zoomgov.com/webinar/register/WN_XRIhEdP9S4e9nYOsc1axpg

Click here for a recap of the previous webinars for the BRC-BIO program. If you have additional questions, please reach out to the BRC-BIO working group via email (BRC-BIO@nsf.gov).

MCB Congratulates its FY 2022 CAREER Awardees and Reminds the Community of the Upcoming CAREER Solicitation Deadline

MCB Congratulates its newest cohort of CAREER awardees.  The NSF Faculty Early CAREER Development Award (CAREER) is the most prestigious award that NSF gives to early career investigators, enabling these new faculty to embark on an academic career that integrates research and education. In Fiscal year 2022, MCB funded 33 CAREER awards to new faculty in 18 states, including 5 EPSCoR states, and at a diverse set of institutions, including those that are research intensive, primarily undergraduate, and minority-serving. 

Photo by Aphiwat Chuangchoem

The CAREER awards in the FY22 MCB portfolio covered topics across the entire spectrum of MCB-funded science from the molecular to cellular, including topics such as genome stability, DNA repair, intracellular signaling, and organelle formation. The projects used computational and experimental tools including those from biophysics and synthetic biology. Some exciting projects include:

  • The development of novel approaches to understand how proteins insert themselves into cellular membranes
  • How oxidative damage to DNA is repaired by cellular enzymes
  • How cells determined which duplicated genes were retained or lost during evolution
  • How components of bacterial immune systems can be utilized as tools for improving medicine or crop production.

A distinguishing criterion of CAREER awards is the integration of research with education, which is often described in the context of broader impacts.  Broader impacts efforts undertaken by this year’s awardees will engage high school students and their teachers, as well as community college, undergraduate and graduate students, in projects that range from course-based research experiences to activities involving inflatable project domes that can be transported across schools. In some of the most innovative activities, undergraduate students will test for water pollution by visually monitoring a biological motor, graduate students will use smartphone optical microscopes and microfluidic technologies to design devices for undergraduate classrooms, high school students will be introduced to synthetic biology through modular education kits, and STEM students will partner with journalism faculty to enhance their ability to effectively communicate science to the non-scientific community.

MCB was fortunate to have received support from the American Rescue Plan to enable the support of so many early career faculty.  

A complete listing of the new MCB CAREER award recipients can be found here (link).

How to Submit to the CAREER Program

The latest update of the CAREER solicitation (NSF 22-586) was recently released. 

Changes include:

  • Proposal submissions must be through Research.gov
  • There are new guidelines for letters from the Department Chair
  • Submission Deadline is Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Potential proposers are encouraged to read the full text of the solicitation. Submissions of CAREER proposals are encouraged from early-career faculty at all CAREER-eligible organizations and are especially encouraged from women, members of underrepresented minority groups, and persons with disabilities to apply.

Related upcoming events:

MCB is holding a Virtual Office Hour on May 11th, 2-3 p.m. EST about the Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER). You can register for the office hour here.


Interagency Synthetic Biology Working Group (SBWG) website now live

Snapshot of SBWG website homepage

Research in synthetic and engineering biology is applicable to a variety of sectors, including biomanufacturing, defense, energy, agriculture, and medicine, all of which can be used to support our nation’s growing bioeconomy. The Interagency Synthetic Biology Working Group (SBWG) works to facilitate coordination and collaboration across the United States Government agencies as it pertains to synthetic and engineering biology. The SBWG’s website is now live and can be found at beta.nsf.gov/sbwg and lists available funding opportunities, funding agencies, events, and other resources.

The SBWG, which includes representatives from agencies such as the NSF, National Institutes of Health, Department of Energy, National Institutes of Standards, USDA, NASA and Department of Defense, was charged by the Biological Sciences Subcommittee of the National Science and Technology Council with the overarching goal of promoting interagency science and technology policy coordination.

BIO hosts annual HBCU-EiR Proposal Writing Workshops

On June 7 and June 13, program directors from the Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) will be hosting two proposal writing workshops geared toward faculty members who teach and conduct research at HBCUs. The proposal writing workshop includes information on the basics of merit review as well as a session on writing  a review and participating in a mock panel. While it is tailored to the Excellence in Research (EiR) program, the workshop is not restricted to faculty interested in applying to the EiR program. If you would like to attend the workshop, please email mcbwebreg@nsf.gov to obtain a registration form before April 28.

This is a follow-up to the webinars that BIO hosted in April, geared toward faculty members who are interested in applying to NSF’s HBCU EiR program. The slides from those webinars can be found below.

Quantum Biology: Current Impacts and Opportunities

On World Quantum Day, we wanted to highlight how MCB is supporting quantum biology.

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) annually send all agencies a letter that identifies the administration’s scientific research and development priorities. This year’s joint OMB/OSTP priority letter  identified several emerging industries, including quantum science, artificial intelligence, biotechnology and advanced manufacturing, as key areas for engagement.

MCB and the researchers we support have  recognized quantum biology as an emerging research area with opportunities for growth, adding quantum biology to the list of themes in the BBSRC lead agency opportunity and the list of cluster priorities in the Molecular Biophysics program description.  

In addition, MCB plays an active role in NSF’s Quantum Leap Big Idea and manages one of the Quantum Leap Challenge Institutes focused on quantum sensors for biology. The Quantum Leap Challenge Institute for Quantum Sensing in Biophysics and Bioengineering, led by the University of Chicago, will create new types of biocompatible quantum sensors and embed these quantum sensors within biological systems to extract new information and gain control over biological processes that, until now, have been beyond reach. The Institute will also train the future quantum technology workforce.

Other support from MCB for quantum biology includes a Research Coordination Network that supports community development and research capacity building in this area, several EAGER awards to support exploratory research on topics from quantum principles in electron transfer in nanowires or in odorant detection or quantum imaging and quantum-based detection methods development, as well as full proposals exploring topics such as quantum phenomena involved in biological energy transfer. A full list of MCB supported quantum biology awards can be found here.

Continuing to support this emerging industry allows MCB and our community to remain at the cutting edge of biology and to strengthen cross-disciplinary partnerships.

For any questions about funding opportunities related to Quantum Biology, please contact Engin Serpersu (ESERPERS@nsf.gov) or Jaroslaw Majewski (jmajewsk@nsf.gov).

MCB CONGRATULATES RECIPIENTS OF THE 2022 PROTEIN SOCIETY AWARDS

The Protein Society, an international society dedicated to the advancement of protein research, recently announced its 2022 Award winners, several of whom have been funded by MCB’s Molecular Biophysics (MB) cluster. The Protein Society Awards recognize outstanding efforts of researchers who have distinguished themselves with significant achievements in protein research and who have made exceptional contributions in leadership, teaching, and service. Read more about the MCB-funded winners below.

Photo of several 2022 Protein Society Award Winners

Hans Neurath Award Winner – Squire Booker, Ph.D.
The Hans Neurath Award honors those who have made an exceptional contribution to basic protein research. Professor Squire Booker (Penn State University) is recognized for his research which has provided deep insight into the governing molecular logic underpinning biosynthetic pathways, enzyme cofactors, drug action and metabolism, and the mechanisms of antibiotic resistance.

Learn more about Squire Booker’s NSF funded research.

Stein & Moore Award Winner – Daniel Herschlag, Ph.D.
The Stein & Moore Award recognizes eminent leader in protein science who have made sustained, high-impact research contributions to the field. Professor Daniel Herschlag (Stanford University) has identified the principle of “catalytic promiscuity,” a critical missing link in evolution. In addition, his lab developed the RNA chaperone hypothesis, demonstrated the role of RNA binding proteins in coordinating gene expression, and has been on the forefront of developing cutting edge techniques that illuminate new aspects of protein behavior.

Learn more about Daniel Herschlag’s NSF funded research.

Protein Science Young Investigator Award Winners – Nicolas Fawzi, Ph.D. and Nozomi Ando, Ph.D.
The Protein Science Young Investigator Award recognizes a scientist in the first 8 years of an independent career who has made an important contribution to the study of proteins.

  • Professor Nicolas Fawzi (Brown University) is an internationally recognized leader in his field, his efforts were among the first to bring structural to proteins following phase separation. The Fawzi lab has provided insight into the physiology of membrane-less organelles and their pathological dysfunction associated with cancer and neurodegenerative disorders. Learn more about Nicolas Fawzi’s NSF funded research.
  • Professor Nozomi Ando (Cornell University) has pioneered new experimental and computational methods to illuminate the molecular mechanisms of protein allostery. Her research on diffuse scattering, faint and smeary signals in the background of x-ray diffraction images from protein crystals is noted with high regard. She is also recognized for her work in advancing structural biology education and advocating for diversity in STEM. Learn more about Nozomi Ando’s NSF funded research.

Join us in congratulating recipients of the 2022 Protein Society Awards. The full list of awards and winners can be found here: https://www.proteinsociety.org/page/protein-society-awards.

WELCOME MCB’S NEW SCIENCE ASSISTANT – OLAF CORNING

Olaf Corning joined MCB as a science assistant in early March.

Photo of Olaf

What attracted you to work for the NSF?
The NSF had been a subtle but steady influence on my undergraduate education, funding the research around me and enabling friends to pursue PhDs, but it wasn’t until I was interning in Congress that the desire to work at the Foundation seized me.

In the wake of the NSF’s 70th anniversary, the Hill was embroiled with debate over the NSF’s future. As Congress discussed Vannevar Bush’s intent, the numerous successes of the agency, and the challenges it could still solve, I realized this was a place I wanted to work. The Foundation is filled with people fundamentally committed to the celebration of knowledge, expanded access to science, and acceleration of scientific innovation. I am tremendously excited to be able to participate in the NSF’s mission and learn about how it operates and can grow with the needs of the Nation.

How was your relocation?
As smooth as it gets: I was already here! I moved to DC in 2016 for my undergraduate degree at the George Washington University. I’ve come to love the city. Washington, D.C. is incredibly walkable, has beautiful architecture, fantastic local parks, and a tremendous variety of available activities. Having grown up in a rural area in Florida, I am particularly enamored with the Metro. The stations and trains are a great resource and are their own peculiar art form. People here are friendly and quick to make friends. DC sees a lot of turnover and people compensate for it. If you are considering relocating to DC, you are sure to feel welcome.

Using the Rules of Life to Address Societal Challenges

On March 15, 2022, the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) held a Town Hall bringing together a multidisciplinary group of researchers to discuss using the ‘rules of life’ to address societal challenges and to identify challenges ripe for this approach. Further background on the event and how it fits with NSF’s Understanding the Rules of Life Big Idea can be found on nsf.gov.

The ideas from that Town Hall have been distilled into four topics that will serve as focal points for four workshops, as noted below. Each workshop will consider how all the STEM disciplines (including biology, chemistry, computer sciences, engineering, geosciences, mathematics, physics, social, behavioral, and economic sciences) could be used to tackle a specific problem. All workshops will incorporate cross-cutting themes of diversity, equity, and inclusion and STEM education, training, and workforce development. 

Applications opened on March 21, 2022 and close on March 29, 2022.

Participation in the workshop is by application only.

Additional ‘Incubator’ events will provide further engagement for postdoctoral scholars attending the workshops (scroll down for more information). Whether or not you are able to participate, we strongly encourage and request you share this information with postdocs in your networks.

Workshop 1: Stewarding an Integrated Biodiversity-Climate System (April 14, 2022, 11:00 AM – 5:00 PM EDT)
We are learning the Rules of Life that govern the essential role of biodiversity in controlling function, maintenance, and adaptation of every ecosystem on Earth. We are also learning that biodiversity and climate are inextricably linked and that everything affecting one affects the other. How might these lessons help us to predict, preserve, and harness the benefits of biodiversity for human society and the natural world?

Workshop 2: Achieving a Sustainable Future (April 19, 2022, 11:00 AM – 5:00 PM EDT)
We are learning the Rules of Life that govern the complexity of interconnected living systems at multiple scales, e.g., from natural and synthetic cells to organisms, populations, communities, ecosystems, and the biosphere. As we learn more about the ways that living systems use and re-use natural resources, how might these lessons help us devise strategies to improve sustainability?

Workshop 3: Harnessing Microbiomes for Societal Benefit (April 21, 2022, 11:00 AM – 5:00 PM EDT)
We are learning the Rules of Life that govern the individual and collective metabolism, physiology, signaling, and interaction of different microbiomes, as well as their composition and responses to evolving environments. As we learn more about the roles of microbiomes in all living systems, how might these lessons help us to improve human society and the biosphere?

Workshop 4: Leveraging AI and Data for Predicting Mechanisms (April 26, 2022, 11:00 AM – 5:00 PM EDT)
We are learning the Rules of Life that govern the prediction of an organism’s observable characteristics from interactions of its genome with the environment.  At the same time, novel research on artificial intelligence and data analytics is providing essential tools for integrating Rules of Life data.  How might these lessons help us to improve our ability to use AI and Data Science?

A Special Call to Postdoctoral Scholars

As the next generation of STEM leaders, you are invited to participate in the NSF-sponsored workshops listed above, and the accompanying postdoc-only “Incubators” on Using the Rules of Life to Address Societal Challenges. 

The postdoc-only Incubators are designed to aid your career development by providing an opportunity to brainstorm research directions for your future and a platform to meet other postdocs from different scientific backgrounds. You are welcome to share this announcement with colleagues who might be interested in attending.

Applications opened March 21, 2022, and close on March 29, 2022.

Workshop topics and dates are listed above.

Postdoc ‘Incubators’

  • Kick-off Incubator (all selected postdocs): April 12, 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM EDT
  • Writing Incubator A (for Workshops 1 & 2): April 22, 11:00 AM to 4:00 PM EDT *
  • Writing Incubator B (for Workshops 3 & 4): May 2, 11:00 AM to 4:00 PM EDT **
  • Wrap-up Incubator (all selected postdocs): May 17, 11:00 AM to 4:00 PM EDT