MCB

Accelerating Innovations in Biomanufacturing Approaches through Collaboration Between NSF and the DOE BETO funded Agile BioFoundry (NSF-DOE/ABF Collaboration) NSF 22-549

The Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences in NSF’s Directorate for Biological Sciences and the Division of Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental and Transport Systems in the Directorate for Engineering announce a new funding opportunity in collaboration with the Department of Energy’s Bioenergy Technologies Office (DOE BETO), “Accelerating Innovations in Biomanufacturing Approaches through Collaboration Between NSF and the DOE BETO funded Agile BioFoundry” NSF 22-549.

This funding opportunity provides support for researchers from institutions of higher education and non-profits to take advantage of the unique Design-Build-Test-Learn facilities at the Agile BioFoundry (ABF).  NSF will support the work of the researchers prior to or in parallel to the work that will occur at ABF.  DOE BETO will support the work at ABF through a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA).  Through this collaboration, NSF hopes that more basic research projects can be advanced to deliver impact to society leveraging the rapid prototyping and advanced biotechnology resources available at ABF. 

The deadline for proposal submission is April 4, 2022.  Prior to submission, proposers are required to contact ABF and submit a brief outline of their plan for feasibility review. Ideally the plan should be submitted for feasibility review 2 months prior to proposal submission. Due to this year’s time constraint, ABF is willing to accept plans for feasibility review until February 21, 2022 at the latest.

NSF will review proposals according to the standard merit review criteria along with specific criteria that are detailed in the solicitation.  Proposers are encouraged to review ABF capabilities and intellectual property provisions of the CRADA prior to submission. 

For full details on submission instructions, solicitation requirements, and contact information, see NSF 22-549.

Your Project Titles Matter, Choose Wisely

Project titles matter because they partially determine who will end up reviewing your proposals. Unlike the situation with journals, where an editor can share the abstract of a manuscript with a potential reviewer, all NSF can share is the title. This comes into play in two important ways:

First, when we put together a panel, we strive to find panelists with a broad diversity of interests to cover the broad diversity of proposal topics in a typical panel.  A major challenge is to figure out the best matches of panelist expertise with proposal topics. To help in doing so, we send each panelist a complete list of proposal titles and ask them to rank each from 1 (“I’d love to review this one and have the necessary expertise”) to 4 (“I’m clueless or disinterested”). Although we sometimes overrule those rankings, we certainly pay attention to them. Here’s the point: If you want your proposal to be reviewed by someone who can best appreciate your project and provide the most constructive feedback, your title is pivotal.  Make sure it concisely summarizes what your proposal is about and stay away from vague or grand statements.

Second, the same challenge of matching reviewers to proposals comes into play when Program Directors solicit reviews from ad hoc reviewers (i.e., reviewers who are not panelists).  While Program Directors may be confident in the appropriateness of a particular reviewer for a given proposal, the reviewer makes a decision about whether to review the proposal according to the title.  The problem is that reviewers are far more likely to say “no” if they don’t have a good sense of what they’re getting themselves into.

Bottom line: You don’t want folks making false assumptions about your proposal’s content when the title is the only glimpse they have to your proposal. You can (and should) provide effective project titles.

Welcome to MCB Cliff Weil!

Cliff Weil joined MCB in July 2021 as a program director in the Genetic Mechanisms cluster.

What is your educational background?

I have a B.S. in Genetics from the University of California, Davis and a Ph.D. in Genetics and Development from Cornell University.

What were you doing before you came to NSF?

Before joining MCB in July 2021, I was a professor at Purdue University focused on genetics, molecular biology, and genomics of plants, particularly maize and sorghum. I have a special fondness for transposable elements, which were first described in maize, and their interactions with the DNA repair machinery. I’ve also worked on microtubules and as a part of groups trying to interface engineering with biology. From 2017-2020, I was a program director in the NSF Plant Genome Research Program in the Division of Integrative Organismal Systems (IOS).

What attracted you to work for NSF?

I’m really excited about being able to facilitate getting the best science supported and about helping develop new directions for Molecular and Cellular Biology.. It is a great group of colleagues in MCB, and I really like the dedication to the work that everyone shares and the free flow of ideas. These are crazy times with the pandemic, but NSF has barely skipped a beat and there remains incredible opportunity to develop new ideas and to broaden the community of scientists. I’m thrilled to be a part of that.

What would you tell someone who is thinking about serving as a Program Director (*or applying to a position) at NSF?

Definitely do it! It’s a lot of work but totally worth it, interesting (sometimes in unexpected directions), and a lot of fun. You will learn a TON. I really like living in the DC area, so if you can do that, you should, but the remote working has been amazingly seamless.

When friends or colleagues find out that you work at NSF, what do they say or ask?

“Can you get me some money!?” I always tell them to send me a one-pager… I think my kids were least impressed with that answer.

NEW COLLABORATION BETWEEN NSF MCB AND GERMAN RESERCH FOUNDATION

The NSF Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB) has announced a new opportunity for investigators to obtain support for international collaboration, specifically between the U.S. and German research communities. The Dear Colleague Letter, released under an MOU with the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) and  titled “NSF-DFG Lead Agency Opportunity in Molecular and Cellular Biology” (NSF 22-015), invites U.S. and German collaborators to submit joint proposals in the areas covered by NSF/MCB and DFG’s review board 201 “Basic Research in Biology and Medicine.”

The proposals should focus on basic research at a molecular, subcellular, or cellular level, including theoretical approaches. Please note the following exclusions:

  • Proposals encompassing tissues, organs or whole animals will not be considered.
  • Research in the areas of plant sciences, microbiology, immunology, and neurosciences is also excluded.

Proposals must provide a clear rationale for the need for US-German collaboration, including the unique expertise and synergy that the collaborating researchers will bring to the project.

Please note that proposals can be submitted from January 3rd, 2022 on a continuous basis. Please note that there is no deadline for submission to either agency.

For full details on submission guidelines, program priorities, and contact information, see DCL NSF 22-015.

Designer Cells Welcomes Proposals for the Second Year

In 2020, NSF’s Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences together with the Division of Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental and Transports Systems (CBET) in the Directorate for Engineering (ENG) and the Division of Social and Economic Sciences (SES) in the Directorate for Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences (SBE) launched a new solicitation, Designing Synthetic Cells Beyond the Bounds of Evolution (Designer Cells) NSF 21-531.  With this solicitation, NSF hoped to continue to support advances in building synthetic cells and leverage the success of programs like Understanding the Rules of Life: Building a Synthetic Cell. Projects submitted to the Designer Cells solicitation used synthetic biology to address at least one of the following research areas:

  1. identifying the minimal requirements for the processes of life;
  2. addressing fundamental questions in the evolution of life or to explore biological diversity beyond that which currently exists in nature;
  3. leveraging synthetic systems for innovative biotechnology applications. 

The program is now accepting proposals for its second cohort. The due date for proposals for the second year is February 1, 2022.

In its first cohort, the program made 12 awards.  These first awards explored a number of exciting themes including building synthetic organelles, exploring non-natural or synthetic approaches to information storage and decoding, and creating cells with new tunable properties.  One exciting thematic area represented in a number of 2021 Designer Cells awards was synthetic modifications that change information storage and decoding in cells.  A full list of the awards made in the first year of Designer Cells can be found here.  

In this second year of the solicitation, Program Director Anthony Garza says that he “hopes to see proposals that continue to push to boundaries of what cells can do, either by adding in new functionality, or minimizing cell components, but still getting functional synthetic cells.” Program Director Steve Peretti said he “would like to see the community exploit synthetic cell technology in new application areas.” 

Opportunities to Learn More

Garza and Peretti are holding a Virtual Office Hour on Designer Cells and other new opportunities on November 17, 2021 at 2 PM EST.  You can register here

Research and Mentoring for Postbaccalaureates in Biological Sciences (RaMP)

The Research and Mentoring for Postbaccalaureates (RaMP) in Biological Sciences program invites the submission of proposals to establish networks to support full-time research, mentoring, and training for recent college graduates who have had few or no research or training opportunities during college in research fields typically supported by the Directorate of Biological Sciences. Individuals from groups underrepresented in STEM, first generation college students, and students at under-resourced institutions frequently have limited opportunities to participate in the undergraduate research experiences that are necessary to be competitive for graduate programs or other STEM career pathways. This program will provide research experiences through RaMP networks.

The full proposal deadline is January 20, 2022.

Proposals submitted under this solicitation should focus on research-based inquiry projects that include analytical and technical training and professional development opportunities.

If you would like further information about this solicitation, please visit NSF 22-506. You can also learn more about RaMP on BIO Buzz, the blog of NSF’s Office of the Assistant Director for Biological Sciences.

Details of this funding opportunity will be featured, along with the new Building Research Capacity of New Faculty in Biology (BRC-BIO) program opportunity, in the upcoming IOS Virtual Office Hour on November 18, at 1pm ET.

Register at https://nsf.zoomgov.com/webinar/register/WN_QJdSn2DFQUOpIFOu_oW-Cg.

NSF-Simons Collaboration on a National Institute for Theory and Mathematics in Biology (NITMB)

The National Science Foundation (NSF) recently released a new solicitation (NSF 21-607) to support a national institute to enable innovative research at the intersection of mathematical and biological sciences. The goal of the institute will be to facilitate new developments of biology-inspired mathematical theories, methodologies, and innovative modeling approaches to advance the understanding of challenging biological problems. The institute should promote interdisciplinary research, education, and workforce training.

The preliminary proposal is due on December 1, 2021. The full proposal is due on July 18, 2022.

The institute will serve as a national resource that aims to advance research in the mathematical and biological sciences through programs supporting discovery and knowledge dissemination in mathematical biology and enhancing connections to related fields.

The institute should primarily focus on advances in theory and mathematics that are motivated by and applicable to the analysis of complex biological systems. Other expectations include:

  • Conduct interdisciplinary education and training through research involvement of doctoral degree recipients and graduate students from across this multi-disciplinary spectrum
  • Conduct convening activities, including short-term and/or long-term visitor programs, workshops, and/or outreach activities.
  • Diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility are expected to be core values of the institute and should be reflected in its research, education, outreach programs, and its leadership

The institute will be co-sponsored at an anticipated level of $50,000,000 for five years by the National Science Foundation Directorates for Mathematical and Physical Sciences and for Biological Sciences, together with the Simons Foundation Division of Mathematics and Physical Sciences.

Information on Proposal Format:
Proposals must be written with a five-year plan for research, training, outreach, and other Broader Impact activities. The plan and budget must reflect a ramp-up of the institute’s activities during Years 1 and 2, with a full complement of activities implemented no later than the beginning of Year 3.

For more information:
View the full solicitation (NSF 21-607) here.