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Funding Opportunity: NSF BIO Releases Two Solicitations for Rules of Life Big Idea

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has released two new solicitations for one of its 10 Big Ideas, Understanding the Rules of Life (URoL): Epigenetics; and Building a Synthetic Cell – An Ideas Lab Activity. Of relevance to SIAM, both solicitations encourage proposals that integrate multiple disciplines, including mathematics, in their approaches to stated research challenges.  
 
Led by the Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO), URoL goals are to better understand the “rules” of how life functions; to develop research tools and infrastructure to advance this field; to train the next generation of researchers; and to foster convergent research across NSF.  Although proposals for both new solicitations must be submitted to BIO Division of Emerging Frontiers, a cross-foundational team of program officers will oversee the program.  Researchers who have not previously engaged on URoL are encouraged to participate.  Both solicitations limit individuals to serve as PI or Co-PI on only one proposal, although there is no limit on proposals per institution.  Additional information on the two URoL solicitations is presented below:
 
Understanding the Rules of Life: Epigenetics
 
The URoL: Epigenetics program is intended to support and promote multidisciplinary research, education, and workforce training in the field of epigenetics.  The solicitation calls on proposals to use “complementary, interdisciplinary approaches to investigate how epigenetic phenomena lead to emergent properties that explain the fundamental behavior of living systems,” explaining that successful projects should “identify general principles ("rules") that underlie a wide spectrum of biological phenomena across size, complexity (e.g., molecular, cellular, organismal, population) and temporal scales (from sub-second to geologic) in taxa from anywhere within the tree of life.”  Furthermore, these projects must integrate multiple research perspectives, approaches, and disciplines: examples listed include “biology, chemistry, computer science, engineering, geology, mathematics, physics, social and behavioral sciences.” 
 
Through this solicitation, NSF seeks to explore the impact of epigenetic inheritance and the broader consequences of this biological phenomenon across living systems (e.g., populations, communities, and ecosystems).  NSF is focused on “understanding the relationship between epigenetic mechanisms associated with environmental change, the resultant phenotypes of organisms, and how these mechanisms lead to robustness and adaptability of organisms and populations.”
 
Due Date: Full proposals are due by February 1, 2019.
 
Total Funding and Award Size: NSF anticipates between approximately $15 million and $18 million in available funding to support six to 12 new awards.  There are 2 submission tracks: Track 1 up to $500,000 over three years and Track 2 up to $3 million over five years.
 
Understanding the Rules of Life: Building a Synthetic Cell – An Ideas Lab Activity
 
The goal of the URoL: Building a Synthetic Cell Ideas Lab is to facilitate new transformative research proposals that bring together multidisciplinary expertise to work towards “designing, fabricating, and validating synthetic cells that express specified phenotypes.”  The Ideas Lab mechanism is an intensive process that aims to leverage advances in “biophysics, chemistry, computer science, geosciences, materials, soft condensed matter, and biology with progress in engineering and social sciences.”  Proposals that address education in existing and future technologies, as well as bioethics, are also important considerations for NSF.
 
NSF welcomes preliminary proposals from a range of disciplines including mathematics, physics, biology, chemistry, geosciences, ethics and statistics, engineering, and graduate and undergraduate education.
 
Due Date: Preliminary proposals are due December 28, 2018.  “Participation in the Ideas Lab requires an invitation in response to a preliminary proposal. Submission of a full proposal derived from the Ideas Lab requires both participation in the Ideas Lab and an invitation to submit a full proposal.”

Full proposals (by invitation only) are due May 13, 2019.

The Ideas Lab will take place from Monday, February 25th to Friday, March 1, 2019, at a location close to NSF headquarters in Northern Virginia.
 
Total Funding and Award Size: NSF anticipates approximately $10 million in available funding to support between four and six new awards in FY 2019.
 
Sources and additional information:

The Understanding the Rules of Life: Epigenetics solicitation is available at https://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2018/nsf18600/nsf18600.htm?WT.mc_id=USNSF_25&WT.mc_ev=click
Understanding the Rules of Life: Building a Synthetic Cell – An Ideas Lab Activity is available at https://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2018/nsf18599/nsf18599.htm?WT.mc_id=USNSF_25&WT.mc_ev=click.
More information on the Rule of Life Big Idea is available at https://www.nsf.gov/news/special_reports/big_ideas/life.jsp

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