A revised IOS Core Programs solicitation (NSF 16-505) has been released, and can be accessed on the NSF/IOS web page! A set of Frequently Asked Questions has been developed for the new solicitation and can be accessed here: FAQ
We want to call your attention to two major programmatic changes, and provide you with rationales for why the changes were made—information that is not included in the new solicitation.
- Proposals about the interaction of plant hosts and their symbioses with other organisms (microbes, invertebrate pathogens, pests and other symbionts) will now be accepted for review by a new program, Plant Biotic Interactions (PBI), jointly supported and managed by NSF IOS and the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) instead of being considered by the Symbiosis, Defense and Self-recognition (SDS) program.
- The revised IOS Core Programs solicitation includes two tracks for proposal submission. The Core track remains essentially unchanged from the description in the previous IOS solicitation (NSF 13-600), except for the changes noted above for the SDS Program. A new Enabling Discovery through Genomic Tools (EDGE) track has been added to address impediments to testing cause-and-effect relationships between genes and phenotypes.
PBI and SDS: Proposals in the area of plant-biotic interactions of all types should no longer be submitted through the IOS Core Programs solicitation to the SDS program. All areas of research involving plants and plant hosts previously considered by the SDS program will be accepted by the PBI program. The anticipated submission deadline for full proposals to the new PBI Program is in April 2016. The PBI program will not require submission of preliminary proposals in its review process. Complete information about this new joint NSF/NIFA program will be forthcoming in late 2015 or early 2016.
There is no change in the review of proposals on the interaction of animal hosts with their pathogens, pests and symbionts, organelle acquisition, or symbioses among and between prokaryotes and protists. Proposals on these topics should continue to be submitted to the SDS program via the IOS Core Programs solicitation. The description of the SDS Program has been updated to accommodate the changes regarding plant symbioses, and plant self/non-self recognition.
Core and EDGE tracks: The Core track of the revised Core Programs solicitation continues to encompass a two-phase merit review process, with submission of full proposals by invitation only, after merit review of preliminary proposals, which are required. An annual limit of two preliminary proposal submissions by PIs and co-PIs remains in effect for the Core track.
The EDGE track is designed for research addressing current impediments to progress in understanding a range of important questions in organismal biology and in particular the understanding of the genomes-to-phenomes relationship. EDGE projects should focus on development of functional genomic tools, approaches and associated infrastructure to enable genome manipulation in diverse, emerging model organisms. EDGE proposals must additionally include training and rapid dissemination plans enabling larger communities of investigators to utilize the newly developed tools, thereby catalyzing an increase in the capacity of research communities to test cause-and-effect hypotheses about genes and phenotypes in organisms presently lacking such tools.
Proposals relevant to plant symbioses, and focused on development of functional genomic tools to enable genome manipulation, may be submitted to the EDGE track of the revised IOS Core Programs solicitation.
Proposers who wish to submit to the EDGE track must submit a Letter of Intent prior to submission of a full proposal. There are no annual limits for PI and co-PI proposal submissions to the EDGE track.
Why did we make this change, and develop a new inter-agency program in Plant Biotic Interactions?
Both NSF and NIFA are dedicated to supporting advances in science. The Program Directors administering the related programs in plant symbioses at NIFA and NSF/IOS (the SDS Program) recognized that many of the same PIs applied to both programs, and that the PIs framed their NSF applications in the context of basic research, and framed their applications to NIFA in the context of applied or translational research aimed at improving agriculture.
Therefore, Program Directors felt that the PIs could, in some cases, develop proposals that included both basic research aims and aims to take fundamental knowledge and apply it to achieve agricultural improvements. The potential result would be development of more cohesive proposals.
Moreover, we anticipate that such proposals may synergistically advance both basic research and improvements in crop agriculture more rapidly, and in unanticipated ways. Insights about opportunities to improve agricultural crops may spur the development of novel basic research plans, and, reciprocally, a robust portfolio of basic research proposals will yield a continuous stream of new insights about ways to improve agricultural crops.
Both agencies will continue to encourage submission of proposals to the PBI program that include only basic research aims, or only applied or translational research aims, which has been a standard pattern of proposal submission. In addition, the program will encourage PIs to consider submitting proposals that include any combination of basic, applied or translational research aims.
Why did we add a second track (EDGE) to the IOS Core Programs solicitation?
IOS program staff engaged in lengthy discussions about current impediments to progress in organismal biology research. One of the most frequently identified reasons why research progress is impeded is a lack of functional genomic tools and infrastructure to test cause-and-effect hypotheses about how one or more genes affect a phenotype. Although costs have declined enough that PIs can afford to support sequencing (genomic, transcriptomic) on IOS awards, many projects fail to progress beyond identifying correlations, for example between changes in gene expression and experimental or environmental conditions.
This impediment to progress is pervasive, affecting all areas of science supported by IOS (animal behavior, developmental biology, physiology & biomechanics, neuroscience, and plant genomics) because the division supports research on a broad array of organisms in each of these areas, and genome manipulation is not possible in many of these organisms. Existing, genome-enabled model organisms are frequently unsuitable to address basic research questions. Therefore, non-model organisms, which possess features that make them compellingly suitable models to address specific questions about structure and function, are targeted in the EDGE track.
Supporting functional genomic tool development across this wide array of non-model organisms may appear daunting; however, PIs must identify in their proposals one or more research communities that will benefit from their proposed project. The description of how the new tools may positively impact communities and advance organismal science will be used by IOS as one means to prioritize support for EDGE projects. We would welcome, for example, proposals about enabling genome manipulation in organisms of common interest among many PIs working in diverse scientific areas supported by IOS. PIs may wish to consider, therefore, enabling organisms in key phylogenetic positions as a way to broaden the impact of tool development.
IOS also recognized that many PIs would benefit from opportunities to learn how to use the new tools in their research; therefore dissemination and training plans are required components of EDGE proposals.
The idea that IOS could support tool development and build capacity in the communities we serve to use the tools was compelling.
Why are we requiring a Letter of Intent prior to submission of a full proposal to the EDGE track?
Because EDGE is a new activity in IOS, we have no information to estimate the number of proposals that will be submitted to the EDGE track. Nor can we gauge the number of institutions that may be involved in the submitted EDGE proposals. To plan for the review process, we will use information from the required Letters of Intent (LOI). For example, we can begin to plan for the number of panel reviewers that will be needed to evaluate the proposals.
Please keep in mind that LOI are non-binding on the proposers. That is, proposers who submit a LOI are not required to submit a full proposal to the EDGE track, and those proposers who do submit a full proposal are not required to adhere to the synopsis of the project, the list of participating institutions, or the list of participants submitted in the LOI. We recognize that plans of the proposers may change between LOI submission and full proposal submission.
Finally, we plan to host a webinar on November 17, 2015 to describe these changes and to answer your questions about the new IOS Core Programs solicitation. We believe that these changes will enhance our ability to support advances in organismal biology. Stay tuned for more information.