NSF

Dr. Theresa Good, division director, Molecular and Cellular Biosciences

Dr. Theresa Good Honored by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers

Dr. Theresa Good, Deputy Division Director of the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences at NSF was recognized by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers as the 2015 recipient of their prestigious Food, Pharmaceutical and Bioengineering Division Distinguished Service Award in Chemical Engineering. Recipients of this award have made an exceptional contribution to the profession of food engineering, pharmaceutical engineering, and/or bioengineering in general.

Dr. Good completed her doctoral degree in Chemical Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She began her career as an Assistant Professor in Chemical Engineering at Texas A&M University where she was tenured. She then worked as a Professor of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Her research focus was understanding the role of protein aggregation in neurotoxicity associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

From 2010 to 2012, Dr. Good worked in the Engineering Directorate at the NSF, and from 2013 to present she has been part of the Molecular and Cellular Biosciences Division as a Program Director in the Systems and Synthetic Biology Cluster, and most recently as the Deputy Division Director.

Dr. Good’s work on problems at the interface of biological sciences and engineering and her tireless efforts in service to the profession and science community were rewarded with this distinguished award. Dr. Good was recognized for “her sustained service in bioengineering leadership, programming, mentoring, and for personal investment in the success of other faculty and students.” Join us in congratulating Dr. Good as the Division celebrates this outstanding recognition.

The National Alliance for Broader Impacts

The Broader Impacts Merit Review criterion (BI) plays a crucial role in NSF’s mission. BI activities advance scientific knowledge and contribute to socially relevant outcomes. The basics of Broader Impacts were addressed in an infographic we previously shared on the blog.

If you have submitted a proposal to the NSF, you are aware that the BI activities of a project are part of the Foundation’s Merit Review process. But… what are Broader Impacts activities? The term “broader impacts” has wide-ranging implications, thus there are many questions about this subject in our scientific community.

MCB is excited about the first, of what we hope to be many, posts featuring the BI activities of MCB-funded investigators. We hope to share a sampling of projects that represents the diversity of activities and their outcomes. If you are: 1) an MCB-funded researcher and 2) would like to share your research and broader impacts activities, please fill out this form to be considered for a future post.

The National Alliance for Broader Impacts (NABI) is a national network of individuals from universities, professional societies, and science organizations that focuses on promoting Broader Impacts activities locally, nationally, and internationally (NSF award #MCB-1313197). NABI is committed to creating a community of practice by achieving the following four objectives:

  • identify and curate promising models, practices, and evaluation methods for the BI community;
  • expand engagement in and support the development of high-quality BI activities by educating current and future faculty and researchers on effective BI practices;
  • develop the human resources necessary for sustained growth and increased diversity of the BI community; and
  • promote cross-institutional collaboration on and dissemination of BI programs, practices, models, materials, and resources.

An important aspect of NABI’s mission is to provide professional development and support for researchers. To do so, offices have been created at many institutions to help researchers design, implement, and evaluate their BI activities. A great example of this effort is the Broader Impacts Network at the University of Missouri (NSF award #MCB-1408736).

NABI also coordinates the annual Broader Impacts Summit (award #IIA-1437105). The summit is a great platform to discuss issues related to BI, to cultivate new ideas, and move the field of BI forward. The summit also presents a unique professional-development opportunity for BI support staff.

When asked about the future of NABI, Dr. Susan D. Renoe, adjunct professor of anthropology at the University of Missouri and director of the Broader Impacts Network, responded:

We will continue to provide high-quality professional development for individuals and broader impacts support for researchers through our programming. In addition, the future of NABI represents the future of broader impacts. As our network grows, so, too, will the scope and scale of the broader impacts of research.”

Award #MCB-1408736 is co-funded by the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences and Emerging Frontiers in the Directorate for Biological Sciences and by the Division of Chemistry in the Directorate for Mathematics and Physical Sciences.

MCB welcomes Dr. William Eggleston, Program Director for the Genetic Mechanisms Cluster

What were you doing before you came to the NSF?

I am an Associate Professor in the Department of Biology and Director of the Integrative Life Sciences PhD Program at Virginia Commonwealth University, where I had been a faculty member since 1993.

What attracted you to work for NSF?

A desire to serve the community, to give back to NSF, to expand my knowledge, to recharge my research, to challenge myself, and based on visits as a panelist, to work with a group of great people who enjoyed working with one another.

What was your first impression of NSF? Has this impression changed since you began serving as a rotator?

A large organization with lots of very competent, very organized, very busy folks enjoying what they do, and doing their best to serve the scientists and citizens of the US. Nope, my impression has not changed other than to be even more impressed with how well NSF is organized, coordinated, and team-based.

What were the personal goals you most wanted to accomplish while at NSF?

Recharge my research and get at least two manuscripts written and submitted for publication, decide on where and how to move my research forward, get my weight down and health under control, and decide on the direction for the next phase of my professional career, between research/ academia, or continued public service in science policy.

What surprised you most about working at NSF?

The high amount of turnover due to large number of rotating program staff and how this impacts the teams, and how much of the job involves being offsite for teleworking, outreach, conferences and independent research and development (IR/D). I also was delighted that my past experience as a leader and with helping others learn about leadership skills has been recognized, appreciated and leveraged. I also am thrilled that the MCB leadership is working to continue to improve all aspects of the division.

What are some of the challenges of serving as a rotating program director?

As a rotator, the biggest challenge is being away from home most of the week. Communication with my current student actually is better because we are more organized and efficient during our scheduled chats and meeting each week. The other major challenge was balancing the on-boarding, training, and getting ready for the first panel during the first three weeks of being here. Getting guidance and information was easy, prioritizing what needed to be done first and what could wait was more challenging, but I received lots of guidance once I asked.

What would you tell someone who is thinking about serving as a program director at NSF?

That NSF has a great work environment, is hugely intellectually stimulating, and that the work being done is meaningful, valuable, and valued. To rotators, I would add that NSF makes every possible effort to ensure (and encourage) continuation and enhancement of scholarship while here through IR/D and makes it possible to be home more than I expected through teleworking. I also would add that people here care and look out for one another. Since arriving, pretty much every night that I am here late, I am reminded of finding a better work-life balance, in a caring way. I did not expect that, and VERY much appreciate the genuine sentiment.

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

All of them have been thrilled, knowing that being chosen to work here, even for a short time, is a great honor. Those who know me best have commented that this very much fits with my current outlook on career and life, which has become focused on service and giving back. My wife has commented that I look no less tired, but instead of the worry lines, I now have far more smile lines than even just a month ago, and that yes, I have lost some weight since being here.

Is there anything else you would like to share with the readers?

Being here has been all that I had hoped it would be and more, and I thank everyone for their help, smiles, patience, guidance and more patience as I get up to speed. I am really, really, really pleased to be here after deciding to take a chance to do something very different from what I was doing six weeks ago.  I am greatly looking forward to the rest of my time in MCB.

MCB Bids Farewell to the Summer 2015 Interns

This summer, the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences had the pleasure of hosting three summer interns. These outstanding undergraduate students culled through proposals, awards and annual reports to identify trends related to informal science education, minority involvement in broader impacts, and the impact of statistical and quantitative analyses on MCB-funded projects. The preliminary data produced by the interns generated several follow-up questions to be explored in the future.

Anita AlbanFullSizeRenderese, a rising senior at the University of Nevada, Reno, investigated informal science education in  active awards in the division. With the help of her mentors, she created a working definition of informal science education as any educational activity the PI participates in outside of the required curricula. These activities included training graduate and undergraduate students, K-12 outreach, lectures or blog posts targeted toward the public, and creating workshops and conferences. In addition to investigating the types of informal education, Anita also considered the length of time that principal investigators were funded, as well as their institutional resources. The division will use these data to continue to investigate what environments influence successful informal science education activities.

bio nsf

Melissa Sam, a rising junior at Northeastern State University used her love of math and statistics to learn more about the use of Big Data analyses in MCB-funded projects. Melissa included the use of both statistical methods, such as the Markov Model, network analysis, bioinformatics, and principal component analysis, and quantitative methods, such as mass spectrometry, NMR spectroscopy, ChIP-sequencing, and next generation sequencing, to define “Big Data Analyses” for her research this summer. She investigated the number of different statistical or quantitative methods per proposal, the costs associated with employing these methods, as well as the impact on the scientific community ( ie. papers, presentations, and book chapters).  Her research findings will be useful to the division whose priorities for research support include quantitative and predictive cell and molecular biology.

mikah

Mikah Barrueta,a rising senior at Otternbein University, spent her summer investigating minority involvement in the broader impacts of MCB-funded research by comparing promises to include underrepresented groups in proposals to reported outcomes in annual reports for a representative sample of awards. In addition, Mikah surveyed program directors and principal investigators to learn more about how the involvement of underrepresented groups is reported to NSF. She evaluated several topics including ways to improve reporting to better capture the demographics of participants in broader impact activities. Mikah’s data and analysis will be considered by the division, as it conducts follow-up research to address questions which emerged as a result of her research.

Sharing MCB Science: Learning Much More about Spores

Like all living organisms, bacteria need nutrients in their environment to survive and grow. When the survival of bacteria like Bacillus subtilis is threatened by starvation they respond by going into a “hibernation” state by forming spores. The process for producing a spore, called sporulation, is highly complex and requires careful coordination with other cellular processes like DNA replication. To understand how cells are able to orchestrate this coordination, Dr. Oleg Igoshin, an Associate Professor at Rice University partnered with Associate Professor, Gurol Suel from the University of California San Diego to study sporulation of the soil bacterium Bacillus subtilis, a model organism for systems biology research.

Jatin Narula, Anna Kuchina, Dong-Yeon D. Lee, and Masaya Fujita compose the research team, led by Igoshin and Suel, interested in clarifying the genetic mechanism of spore formation or sporulation. By combining experimental methods from systems and synthetic biology with mathematical modeling, the researchers uncovered the coordination mechanism required for sporulation. The modeling predicted that the key to this coordination is the specific arrangement of two pivotal sporulation genes on the bacterial chromosome. This arrangement produces a temporary mismatch in the number of copies of these two genes during DNA replication. This mismatch is detected by the biochemical network controlling sporulation to ensure proper coordination and the completion of DNA replication. These predictions were confirmed when rearrangement of the two pivotal genes on the chromosome prevented cells from sporulating. The sporulation mechanism that Igoshin and his team elucidated is described in the video above and in a recent research article in Cell.

When asked about the broader impacts of this research for cell biology, Igoshin said “We found that the relative arrangement of the two sporulation genes on DNA were similar in more than 40 strains of spore-forming bacteria. This evidence suggests that this timing mechanism is highly conserved, and it is possible that other time-critical functions related to the cell cycle may be regulated in a similar way.”

In addition to the scientific impact of this research, the collaborative nature of the research provided interdisciplinary training for participating graduate students. Furthermore, the innovative approaches used by Igoshin and colleagues may be applicable to similar problems in other organisms and useful for teaching system-level concepts to students of various levels and backgrounds.

Sharing MCB Science: The Genetic Response of Diatoms to Ocean Acidification

The ocean is a vast ecosystem, the health of which depends on balanced interactions between the chemical composition of the water and the organisms that inhabit it. One major threat to this balance is ocean acidification. Ocean acidification is the result of the rapid increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) in the past 200 years. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is absorbed by the ocean, triggering a chemical reaction that lowers the pH of the water, making it acidic. This chemical change in the water may negatively impact vital organisms in this ecosystem. Diatoms, a type of algae, are of particular interest because they form the base of food webs in nutrient-rich coastal systems. These systems support fisheries, which are important to the human food supply. In addition, diatoms play a central role in nutrient and carbon cycling within their ecosystem, and account for 40% of total marine primary production. Despite the importance of diatoms, their response to ocean acidification is not well-understood.

To address this gap in knowledge, Dr. Monica Orellana, a principal scientist at the Institute for Systems Biology and the Polar Science Center at the University of Washington (pictured above on the right), and Dr. Nitin Baliga professor at the Institute for Systems Biology (pictured above on the left), partnered with Dr. Virginia Armbrust, Director of the School of Oceanography at the University of Washington. Together, these researchers and their teams developed experiments to mimic ocean acidification in the laboratory, and observe the DNA transcription response in the model diatom cell, T. pseudonana, to forecast diatoms’ response to projected environmental scenarios for the 21st century.

In a recent article published in Nature Climate Change, the research team reports that the diatom cell responds to increasing CO2 levels (i.e., increasingly acidic water) by decreasing the products of groups of genes involved in carbon-concentrating mechanisms (CCMs) and photorespiration, which are regulated by the same transcription factor. This response may allow diatoms to save energy when exposed to the increased CO2 levels predicted for the end of the century. This acclimation process also suggests one may see a shift in the species composition and primary productivity of marine microbial ecosystems at higher CO2 levels.

As a broader impact of this research, an inquiry-based curriculum module for high school science courses was developed to teach the process of systems science in the context of ocean acidification. This module engages and motivates students to be involved in the learning process and helps develop critical thinking skills necessary to solve a global problem. The students act as interdisciplinary scientists and delegates to investigate how increasing atmospheric carbon is affecting the oceans’ chemistry and biology, as well as integral populations of organisms. The students are trained to think on a systems level to critically assess information, predict effects of high CO2, and design and conduct collaborative, multivariable experiments to explore the consequences of high CO2 in seawater. In the concluding activity, the students discuss the system consequences of ocean acidification and they make recommendations for further research, policy-making, and lifestyle changes.

Meet the Summer 2015 Interns at MCB!

Each year the National Science Foundation hosts summer interns from across the United States. This summer, the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences staff is excited to welcome three interns. Throughout the summer we will share updates about their projects. Read below to learn more about these dynamic undergraduates.

 FullSizeRender

I am Anita Albanese, and I was born and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada. I am a rising senior attending the University of Nevada, Reno studying chemical engineering and neuroscience. I want to pursue an MD/PhD and am fascinated by degenerative disease research including Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, diabetes, lupus, and arthritis. In my free time, I like to go to concerts and enjoy trying new food! This summer, I am researching the percentage of Principle Investigators that participate in informal science education within MCB. Furthermore, I will assess the mechanisms these Principle Investigators use to engage the public in MCB supported science.

bio nsf

My name is Melissa Sam. I am from Baldwin Park, California and I am a rising junior at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. I am pursing a Bachelor’s of Science degree in mathematics. In the future, I hope to work with Native American communities nation-wide. I chose to apply through the Washington Internship for Native Students program  to get internship experience and to network with other native students. Also, I feel like this experience will better prepare me to effectively contribute to native communities.

Aside from my coursework, I work at the Indigenous Scholar Development Center on the Northeastern State University Campus as an Academic Peer Consultant. I tutor students mainly with College Algebra homework. I am the treasurer for the Native American Student Association (N.A.S.A.), and the vice president and treasurer for American Indian Science and Engineering Society (A.I.S.E.S.). During my free time I like to bead jewelry, read, and hang out with friends.

This summer, I will be researching MCB funded proposals that incorporate big data and statistics. I will also investigate whether the results of these projects are more impactful and more reproducible than those that do not use these techniques.

mikah

My name is Mikah Barrueta. I am a rising Senior Biochemistry and Molecular Biology major with a French minor at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio. I was born in Merida, Mexico and moved to the U.S when I was 18 years old. I have a strong interest in Public Health with a focus on minority health. I am planning to get my Master’s in Public Health with the Peace Corps “Masters International” program following my graduation. As a summer intern at NSF, I will be working on a project that reviews proposals that include Broader Impacts for minority involvement in the past, and compares them to the follow-up Broader Impact statement in the Annual Report.

Cecilia McIntosh Recognized for Research and Mentoring

Dr. Cecilia McIntosh has studied the structure and function of secondary metabolites in fruit for over 20 years at East Tennessee State University (ETSU). She has had the opportunity to mentor and train over 60 students in her role as a professor of biological science and now, as Dean of the School of Graduate Studies. This year, Dr. McIntosh’s commitment to scientific education and outreach has been recognized by various organizations at ETSU and in the surrounding communities.  The Bristol YWCA has selected McIntosh to receive one of twelve Tribute to Women Awards this year. This annual award program recognizes the outstanding achievements of individuals throughout East Tennessee and Southwest Virgina. Recipients are nominated by area organizations and selected to represent the arts, education, business, and community efforts. In addition to being recognized by her larger community, Dr. McIntosh has been named a 2015 Notable Woman of ETSU and selected to receive the 2015 ETSU College of Arts and Sciences Outstanding Faculty Research Award.  Dr. McIntosh credits NSF support as a significant factor in her ability to have a productive research career.  Congratulations to Dr. McIntosh for her achievements!

Sharing MCB Science: The complex role of chromatin in transcriptional regulation

A central question in biology is how a single genome can give rise to the hundreds of distinct cell types that compose an organism. To achieve this task, the genome must be tightly and selectively regulated. Much of this regulation is thought to come from chromatin, a layer of proteins that cover and package our DNA or genomic code. In a recent report that was the cover article for Cell, Dr. Ahmad S. Khalil and his team of researchers at Boston University describe an experimental platform to engineer, design, and control this layer of regulation, which is distinct to eukaryotes. The team engineered molecular tools that could bind specific locations in the genomic code and alter the local structural and chemical properties of chromatin, thus affecting the expression of genes. This research introduces a new framework to engineer cells in organisms like yeast and mammalian cells. It also supports the use of synthetic biology approaches to control and harness this complex regulatory chromatin layer for future uses in disease intervention, biopharmaceutical production, and basic research.

This research study is the product of a collaborative effort between Dr. Ahmad Khalil and fellow Boston University colleague Dr. James Collins. It is supported by Khalil’s CAREER award from the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences. The CAREER Award Program is a Foundation-wide activity that offers the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious awards in support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations. The Khalil group has a history of introducing undergraduate and high school students to synthetic biology through summer research, in addition to hosting regular outreach and education activities focused on molecular biology and microfluidics.

Dr. Brian Hoffman selected as a fellow for the International EPR (ESR) Society

The International Electron Paramagnetic Resonance (Electron Spin Resonance) Society has announced  Brian Hoffman  as a 2015 Fellow.   The Hoffman research group at Northwestern University studies electron transfer and resonance in proteins and metalloenzymes using a combination of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) and electron spin resonance (ESR) techniques.  This interdisciplinary approach to understanding the fundamental processes through which protein-protein interactions occur has made significant strides in the field, evidenced by a robust publication record and over two decades of research funding from the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences.  Congratulations, Dr. Brian Hoffman!