Blog

#NSFSTORIES: GREGORY BOWMAN’S INITIATIVE TO UNDERSTAND COVID-19

One outcome of a CAREER award and supplement made to Dr. Gregory Bowman by the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences was an enhanced computing infrastructure developed to better understand protein dynamics. The increased capabilities provided the technology needed to direct Bowman’s attention to COVID-19-related research questions. Bowman is addressing these questions via the Folding@home initiative, which has garnered the support of over 4.5 million citizen scientists. Read more about Bowman’s story on NSF’s beta website here.

MCB WELCOMES ANTHONY GARZA AND MARIAM TAHIR, BIDS FAREWELL TO VALERIE MAIZEL

Anthony GarzaAnthony served as an expert in the Genetic Mechanisms cluster, joining the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB) in 2013. He is now a permanent program director in the Systems and Synthetic Biology cluster.

Head shot of Dr. Anthony Garza, program  director in the Systems and Synthetic Biology cluster.

What is your educational background?
I received a Ph.D. in microbiology from Texas A&M University, although my primary training was in molecular biology. I was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Davis, and Stanford University. While in Dale Kaiser’s laboratory at Stanford, I studied the gene regulatory networks associated with bacterial biofilm formation. As an independent researcher, I continued studying bacterial gene regulatory networks using systems-level approaches and started new projects on bacterial natural products (secondary metabolites).

What attracted you to work for NSF?
I have been working in MCB for seven years as an expert. What originally attracted me to NSF was the recommendation of my Syracuse University colleague, who had just completed a two-year rotation with MCB. Since starting in MCB, I have been a program director in the Genetic Mechanisms cluster and the Systems and Synthetic Biology cluster. I enjoyed learning about a variety of research areas, funding exciting science, interacting with the research community and interacting with my colleagues in MCB. I would say that all these things attracted me to the permanent program director position in Systems and Synthetic Biology.

When friends or colleagues find out that you work at NSF, what do they say or ask?
For the most part, my colleagues ask about the funding process at NSF and whether they should contact a program director. Of course, the answer to this question is always yes.

How has your relocation to the area gone?
I haven’t relocated because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but I’m looking forward to it. 


Mariam TahirMariam joined MCB as a program assistant in March.

Head shot of Mariam Tahir, who recently joined the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences as program assistant.

What were you doing before you came to NSF?
I returned from Peace Corps service in June 2019. I served in Costa Rica for two years as a Community Economic Development volunteer. Some of my projects included working in the local high school giving STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics) courses to an empowerment group for girls, and running workshops in art and creative critical thinking painting murals for community service after school (which was a blast!). I also worked at the local bean factory training my host sister in bookkeeping, taught several English classes, and started a bird-watching club in the area. I miss my beautiful community and its people. Pura Vida!

Since I’ve returned to the US, I worked part time at Junior Achievement, teaching financial literacy and professional development to elementary school and high school students.

What has surprised you most about working at the NSF?
The culture! I was a little hesitant about how my background would fit, but the NSF and MCB culture has made me feel super welcome and shown me that everyone is very open to always learning different ways of doing things. The culture is super inclusive, academic, and full of healthy competition. It’s a perfect blend. Our team is always willing to help me learn but also find new ways of doing something new/better.

How has your relocation to the area gone?
DC is SO lovely – I am happy being here in this new adventure. I get to indulge in hiking, a great salsa dancing scene, awesome food and incredible history. I cannot wait to check out the museums when they reopen. Although I do miss living 30 minutes from the Jersey Shore, my family, and being super close to NYC, I know I can always visit on the weekends.


Valerie MaizelValerie joined MCB in 2011 as an administrative support assistant. She started her new role as program specialist in the Division of Chemistry in April.

Head shot of Valerie Maizel, former administrative support assistant in the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences.

What are you most looking forward to next?
In my job, I worked hard and learned new skills that helped me to qualify for a detail as a program specialist in MPS/CHE (the Directorate for Mathematical and Physical Sciences’ Division of Chemistry). I was very pleased to be selected to become an official program specialist. I look forward to working with my new team and working with their exciting programs.

What was working at MCB like?
The staff was very positive and caring. I felt welcome there and everyone was receptive to my ideas.

What did you learn from your position?
I acquired new skills in the financial aspect of NSF.

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.

NO-DEADLINES, FUNDING RATES, AND PROPOSAL SUBMISSIONS

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]

CONGRATULATIONS TO MCB RECIPIENTS OF NSF DIRECTOR’S AWARDS

Photo collage congratulating six MCB awardees.
Top row: Karen Cone (left); Alias Smith; Ann Larrow.
Bottom row: Richard Cyr (left); Wilson Francisco; Manju Hingorani
Top row: Karen Cone (left); Alias Smith; Ann Larrow
Bottom row: Richard Cyr (left); Wilson Francisco; Manju Hingorani

The National Science Foundation (NSF) held its annual Director’s Awards ceremony on May 7, 2020. The event recognizes excellence in services and achievements of NSF employees. The Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB) is proud to have six recipients celebrated this year. Alias Smith (Science Associate) and Ann Larrow (Program Analyst) received the NSF Director’s Superior Accomplishment Award for their “extraordinary efforts in developing the Historically Black Colleges and Universities – Excellence in Research (HBCU-EiR) proposal webinar series which is contributing to the diversity efforts across the Foundation.” To learn about the HBCU-EiR webinar series and the upcoming interactive workshop in June, read more in this post.

Program directors Wilson Francisco, Karen Cone, Richard Cyr, and Manju Hingorani also received the Director’s Superior Accomplishment Award for “extraordinary intellectual leadership and vision in defining the biggest challenges in Biology through sustained community-wide engagement and integration across fields of science.”

MCB congratulates all awardees and thanks them for their exceptional work in fulfilling NSF’s mission of promoting the progress of science.