New Program: Research on Plant-Biotic Interactions (PBI)

The Division of Integrative Organismal Systems recently revised our Core Programs solicitation [NSF 16-505]. You can read about the revisions in our previous blog post and watch the recording of an information webinar about the solicitation.

If you read or viewed this information, you know that proposals about the interactions of plant hosts with other organisms (microbes, invertebrates, pathogens, pests and other symbionts) will now (for 2016) 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).

Proposals in this research area currently (2015) being considered by the NSF Symbiosis, Defense and Self-recognition (SDS) program and the Plant-Associated Microbes and Plant-Microbe Interactions program of NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative will now be reviewed by this new dual agency program*.

Therefore, investigators developing proposals in this research area should not submit preliminary proposals for the IOS Core Programs solicitation’s January 2016 deadline. Rather, full proposals should be submitted in response to the new Plant-Biotic Interactions (PBI) Program solicitation, anticipated to be released in April 2016, with an anticipated submission deadline in June 2016.

Why create a new program?

PBI was created to establish a programmatic environment that encourages intensive pursuit of fundamental understanding of plant-biotic interactions while also supporting the translation of the results of basic research to agricultural practice. The last three decades have seen enormous growth in our understanding of the molecular mechanisms that mediate the interaction of plants with their symbionts, pests and pathogens. As a result, a sophisticated and fertile conceptual framework now guides research in this field.

Deepening mechanistic understanding, combined with rapidly expanding technical capacity to apply what has been learned to crop plants, points to the need to facilitate synergies between basic and applied research in the effort to improve agricultural practice.

The PBI program will support research across this interface as well as continue robust support of the basic and applied efforts at the heart of the participating agencies’ respective missions. Previous organizational structures and priorities at NSF/BIO and USDA/NIFA impeded the development of synergies between basic, translational and applied research efforts.  To promote these synergies, PBI will also consider proposals that include both basic and translational aspects. Thus, PIs need not tailor aims or experimental systems to the specific interests of one or the other agency. This added opportunity does not diminish the mission of the NSF and USDA/NIFA to support the best fundamental and applied research in plant-biotic interactions.

Research areas supported by the PBI program include, but are not limited to:

  • Recognition between plants and their biotic partners; the downstream physiological consequences of that recognition
  • Genetic and genomic processes; cellular signaling pathways
  • Signaling architecture and system dynamics
  • Influence of biotic interactions on nutritional, metabolic and developmental processes
  • Classical plant-biotic systems such as the rhizobium-legume symbiosis, but also recognition and signaling between pathogenic plants and their plant hosts, and the recognition and downstream processes involved in pollen-pistil interactions
  • Immune function, including pattern- and effector-triggered immunity
  • Epigenetic processes that regulate immune responses; trans-generational inheritance of immune states
  • Circadian regulation of immunity; the role of reactive oxygen; immune priming; systemic acquired resistance
  • Focused inquiries into particular host-microbe or host-invertebrate relationships, but also studies of complex symbioses such as multipartite interactions between viruses, bacteria, fungi, oomycetes, insects and/or host plants
  • Rules that govern the assembly and function of rhizosphere and phylosphere microbiomes

PBI proposal review

The PBI review process will utilize full proposals only, with a submission deadline anticipated in June 2016, panel meetings in August or September, and funding decisions available beginning in October 2016. The review process will include input from panel and/or ad hoc reviewers at the discretion of the Program.

Please contact one of the following Program Officials if you have questions about the PBI program:

  • Michael Mishkind, Program Director, NSF Division of Integrative Organismal Systems, Directorate for Biological Sciences, National Science Foundation. Telephone: (703) 292-8413; E-mail:
  • Ann Lichens-Park, National Program Leader, National Institute of Food and Agriculture, United States Department of Agriculture. Telephone: (202) 401-6460; E-mail:

*Note that proposals concerning animal hosts, their symbionts, pathogens and pests as well as interactions between microbes that do not involve a plant host, will continue to be reviewed by the SDS program, with proposal submission and review as described in the Division of Integrative Organismal Systems Core Programs solicitation (NSF 16-505 and its updates).

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