Understanding the Rules of Life: Predicting Phenotype

New Funding Opportunities: Rules of Life Solicitations

a picture of a hand dripping drops of water onto a small plant with dramatic sunlight in the backgroundThe National Science Foundation recently announced two new solicitations: Understanding the Rules of Life: Epigenetics (NSF 18-600), and Understanding the Rules of Life: Building a Synthetic Cell (NSF 18-599). These NSF-wide opportunities are part of Understanding the Rules of Life: Predicting Phenotype, one of NSF’s 10  “Big Ideas” for future investment.


A headline banner reading "Understanding the rules of life: epigenetics" underneath of which is a cartoon of a short strand of DNA wrapped around three histones like three beads on a single string

Understanding the Rules of Life: Epigenetics (NSF 18-600) invites proposals which investigate heritable biological or chemical mechanisms that produce a phenotypic effect without alteration of the DNA sequence.  Projects must integrate education perspectives and research approaches from more than one research discipline (e.g., biology, chemistry, computer science, engineering, geology, mathematics, physics, social and behavioral sciences).

Full proposals are due February 1, 2019 and can be submitted in one of two submission tracks:

(1) award duration of up to 3 years and a total budget of $500,000 or

(2) award duration of up to 5 years and a total budget of $3,000,000.

The specifics of the program priorities and areas of emphasis, as well as additional limitations and guidelines, can be found in the full solicitation.


A title banner reading "understanding the rules of life: building a synthetic cell" over an image of a plant root tip with each cell glowing green due to GFP attached to the cell wall

Understanding the Rules of life: Building a Synthetic Cell: An Ideas Lab Activity (NSF 18-599) invites researchers to apply to participate in an inter-disciplinary Ideas Lab focused on facilitating innovative research projects for designing, fabricating, and validating synthetic cells that express specified phenotypes. Up to $10,000,000 of funding is available for successful project proposals resulting from the Ideas Lab.

Building a synthetic cell is a grand challenge at the interface between biological, mathematical, computer and physical sciences and engineering.  Meeting this challenge requires simultaneous careful exploration of the social and ethical dimensions of such research as well as educating today’s students to engage in the activities and technologies required to develop and use synthetic cells.

To apply to this program, researchers should:

  • submit preliminary proposals due December 28, 2018,
  • participate, if selected, in the Ideas Lab workshop to be held February 25 – March 1, 2019, and
  • if invited to do so, submit, as part of a team, a full proposal due May 13, 2019.

Full details regarding the specifics of the research ideas, proposal limitations, and the application process can be found in the full solicitation.

10 Big Ideas for Future NSF Investment

This infographic shows a black background with a white and blue title reading "10 Big Ideas for Future NSF Investment." The following text says, "The mission of the National Science Foundation is "to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperty, and welfare; to secure the national defense..." NSF's 10 Big Ideas "to position our Nation at the cutting edge of global science and engineering leadership, and to invest in basic research that advances the United States' prosperity, security, health, and well-being" include:..." followed by an image accompanying each of the titles of the 10 big ideas. An image of a chess board says "Understanding the Rules of Life: Predicting Phenotype." An image of data with ones and zeros says "The Quantum Leap: Leading the Next Quantum Revolution." "Windows on the Universe: The Era of Multi-messenger Astrophysics" with an image of a nebula An image of data streaming says "Harnessing the Data Revolution." An image of circuits leading to a brain says "Work at the Human Technology Fronteir: Shaping the Future." An image of buildings in the night sky says "Mid-scale infrastructure." An image of a glacier breaking apart into the ocean says "Navigating the New Artic." An image of a lightbulb with a sapling says "NSF 2026: Seeding Innovation." An image of three arrows converging on a blue background says "Growing Convergent Research at NSF." An image of people doing research, communicating, a pencil drawing, representing diversity in science says "INCLUDES." The text on the bottom says, "Learn More at https//go.usa.gov/xNd5m" next to the NSF logo in black and white.

Shutterstock.com images credited in order of appearance: ANDROMACHI; Mmaxer; NASA images; GarryKillian; Sergey Tarasov; Panimoni; Netta Arobas; Somchaij; Satenik Guzhanina. NSF INCLUDES available at https://www.nsf.gov/news/mmg/mmg_disp.jsp?med_id=132360.