Funding & Service

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

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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/

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.

Office Hours: Q&A on Responding to Community Needs; CAREER Deadline Extended

Virtual Office Hours: Q&A
At the virtual Office Hours event hosted July 8 by the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB), program directors addressed questions submitted by the MCB research community. Topics included research and funding priorities, COVID-19 concerns, the no-deadline proposal submission process, broader impacts, and more. Visit the Office Hours page to view the presentation as well presentations from as all earlier Office Hours.

The next Office Hours will be held August 12, 2020 at 2-3pm EST; the topic will be “NSF-Supported Facilities of Interest.” Registration is required; register here.

CAREER Deadline Extension
NSF understands that universities and research institutions are facing unprecedented pandemic-related challenges. In response, the proposal deadline for the Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) (NSF 20-525) has been extended to Tuesday, August 11, 2020. For more information, read the blog post from the Division of Environmental Biology.

DCL 20-105: Sentinel Cells for Surveillance and Response to Emergent Infectious Diseases (Sentinels)

In recognition of the need for novel approaches to predict or detect the emergence of new infectious diseases, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has released a new Dear Colleague Letter (DCL). Titled “Sentinel Cells for Surveillance and Response to Emergent Infectious Diseases (Sentinels),” the DCL (NSF 20-105) highlights the interest of existing programs within the Directorate for Biological Sciences and the Directorate for Engineering in interdisciplinary approaches to the development of novel biological platforms capable of sensing and responding to emerging infectious agents.

Researchers are encouraged to think broadly about innovations leveraging biology and engineering that may be easily adapted to respond to a range of emergent threats.

Proposals should be submitted to the most relevant program listed below and proposal titles should be prefaced with “Sentinels:”.

Proposals in the participating programs are accepted without deadline and reviewed on a rolling basis. Investigators interested in submitting a proposal are strongly encouraged to contact one of the program directors listed below for further information:

Anthony Garza, BIO/MCB/SSB,
Aleksandr Simonian, ENG/CBET/Biosensing,
Steven Peretti, ENG/CBET/CBE,

HBCU-EiR: Two More Webinars

The Division of Environmental Biology (DEB) is hosting two online informational sessions about the NSF-wide HBCU-EiR program (Solicitation 20-542). A Letter of Intent to submit a proposal is due July 23.

Click here for links to the presentation slides and a video recording of informational webinars on this topic held in April 15 and April 21.

Visit the DEB blog to register for the upcoming sessions.

Summary of MCB RAPID Awards

This post was updated on Monday, June 22, 2020.

The Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences funded 23 proposals (as of June 22) submitted in response to the Dear Colleague Letter on the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) (NSF 20-052) released March 4, 2020 (and now archived). The awards, made through the Rapid Response Research (RAPID) funding mechanism, support research focused on the characterization and modeling of coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Read more about the RAPID funding mechanism in Chapter II.E.1 (Rapid Response Research) of the Proposal & Award Policies and Procedures Guide (PAPPG).

The proposed research projects will contribute to viral tracking and prevention efforts, provide information on viral transmission and biology of infection, and aid drug development for infection treatment and prevention. Links to these RAPID awards can be found in the table below. More information on funding made by the National Science Foundation to support research on the coronavirus may be found here.

Proposal IDProposal TitlePI Name
2027070RAPID: Revealing the intermolecular interactions between the SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 fusion peptide and the host cell membrane that underlie its flexibility in host tropismDaniel, Susan
2027096RAPID: Biophysical characterization of the native SARS-CoV-2 virion by atomistic simulationsPerilla, Juan
2027169RAPID: Development of Rapid Point of Care SARS-CoV-2 Detection SystemEllington, Andrew D.
2027291RAPID:  Multiscale Modeling Of SARS-CoV-2 Viral Intracellular and Intercellular DynamicsSrivastava, Ranjan
2027611RAPID: Factors Contributing To Sequence Conservation in the SARS-CoV-2 GenomeGrigoriev, Andrey
2028443RAPID: Computational studies of the structural dynamics, function and inhibition of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus spike proteinAndricioaei, Ioan
2028651RAPID: Point-of-Need Detection of COVID-19 using CRISPR-Enabled Cell-Free Synthetic BiologyLucks, Julius
2028935RAPID: Impact of inhibitors on SARS-CoV-2 polymerase and fidelity control of RNA synthesisYu, Jin
2029105RAPID: A multiscale approach to dissect SARS-CoV-2 attachment to host cells and detect viruses on surfacesVahey, Michael D.
2029281RAPID: Ecological Dynamics of Human CoronavirusYin, John
2030080RAPID: Exosomal tRNA fragments may constitute an innate viral defense against SARS-CoV-2 and other respiratory RNA viruses.Borchert, Glen M.
2030473RAPID: Structure of Membrane-Bound Fusion Peptide of SARS-CoV-2 Required for InfectionVan Doren, Steven R.
2031068RAPID: Determination of SARS-CoV-2 Spike Glycoprotein Palmitoylation and its Contribution to Virus-Cell Fusion and Surface Protein-Protein InteractionsDevaraj, Neal
2031094RAPID: Host-pathogen interactions during genome replication of SARS-CoV2Ha, Taekjip
2031762Collaborative Research: RAPID: Molecular underpinnings that define volatile compound signature of the lungBushan, Abhinav
2032054RAPID: Understanding the Effects of Glycosylation on Spike Vulnerabilities and the Host Range of SARS-CoV-2Amaro, Rommie E.
2032310RAPID: Biomimicry of SARS-CoV-2 and its consequences for infectivity and inflammationWong, Gerard
2032518RAPID: Membrane remodeling dynamics by SARS-CoV-2Serra-Moreno, Ruth
2032861RAPID: What is the role of extracellular vimentin in SARS2 host cell entry?Patteson, Alison
2033354RAPID: Impact of SARS-CoV2 on function of the cellular tRNA methyltransferase 1 and redox homeostasisFu, Dragony
2033695RAPID: Building a visual consensus model of the SARS-CoV-2 life cycleIwasa, Janet
2033939RAPID: Molecular Insights into the SARS-CoV-2 Spike Protein Activation via a Novel Interaction with a Human Cell Surface Target ProteinIzard, Tina
2035558RAPID: Mechanisms of Polymerization Catalyzed by the SARS-CoV-2 RNA Dependent RNA PolymeraseLucius, Aaron

MCB anticipates several more RAPID awards this fiscal year.


During Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 the Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) announced a year-round (no-deadline) proposal submission process for most programs. The change applied to solicitations for investigator-initiated research projects NSF 17-589 and NSF 18-585 in the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB), along with solicitations in other BIO Divisions.

Comparing proposal data* from FY 2018 to FY 2019, BIO has found that there was an increase in funding rates for all Divisions within BIO. For MCB, the rate increased from 16.7% to 27.4% (see graph below). There was also a decrease in the number of proposals submitted across the Directorate, from 3,226 in FY 2018 to 1,965 in FY 2019.

This graph is a visual demonstration of earlier text:
Comparing proposal data* from FY 2018 to FY 2019, BIO has found that there was an increase in funding rates for all Divisions within BIO. For MCB, the rate increased from 16.7% to 27.4% (see graph below).

This change has been met with positive response from the research community and reviewers. MCB received many positive comments from panelists. For example, one wrote,

As a PI I strongly support the no deadline, no limit submission policy. I appreciate the flexibility to propose projects when they are ready, rather than at an arbitrary time of year. My sense as a panelist is that the quality of submitted proposals was better too. I had far fewer non-competitive proposals in my stack.

The BIO directorate will continue to monitor these metrics and others to measure the impact of the no-deadline policy over time; more details on the impact of the change in submission deadlines are available on the BIO Buzz blog.

*Data includes externally reviewed proposals in core and special programs across all BIO Divisions. It does not include internally reviewed proposals such as RAPIDs, EAGERs, RAISEs, supplements, or conferences, nor does it include human resource proposals such as Fellowships. The unit measured is proposals, which counts single and collaborative proposals as individual units.

CAREER Office Hours and FAQs Recap

On May 18, the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB) joined the Division of Environmental Biology (DEB) to provide an informational Office Hour about the Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) (NSF 20-525). Attendees posted over 30 questions; a full transcript of those questions and responses, as well as a link to the presentation slides, are available on the DEB blog.  

The National Science Foundation includes its own list of FAQs here.

MCB hosts office hours the second Wednesday of every month from 2-3pm EST. The next Office Hour is on June 10. Past presentations are available on the Office Hour page.  

Updated Guidelines for Conference and Workshop Proposals

The Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB) has updated its guidelines for conference and workshop proposals to reflect changes in NSF’s latest Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide (PAPPG 20-1). Both the new PAPPG and these updates go into effect June 1, 2020. The new guidelines emphasize MCB-specific funding priorities and best practices for submitting proposals requesting funding to support conferences, workshops, and other meetings.

The infographic below summarizes key tips for submitting competitive conference and workshop proposals. Contact your MCB program director with questions or comments.

*Budget with Justification – Additional budget guidelines include the following:

  • Attendees whose primary purpose at the meeting is to learn and receive training are considered participants and their costs should be listed on Lines F. 1-4, “Participant Support Costs.”
  • Speakers and trainers generally are not considered participants; their costs should be listed on the appropriate line, e.g., “Other Direct Costs: Other” (Line G.6). [PAPPG Chapt II.C.2.v Participant Support]
  • Indirect costs do not apply to the “Participant Support Costs” category, but they do apply to all other categories at the organization’s federally negotiated rate. Absent this rate, the organization may request a de minimis indirect cost rate of 10% of the modified total direct costs without providing supporting documentation or may elect not to charge indirect costs. [PAPPG Chapt II.C.2.g.viii Indirect Costs]
  • Supported participants should be members of the US scientific community (e.g., individuals working in US institutions). [PAPPG Chapt I.E. Who May Submit Proposals]
  • Federal funds must not be used to pay for alcoholic beverages or for entertainment. [Chapt II.2.xiii. Allowable and Unallowable Costs]