IOS Virtual Office Hours December Recap: Understanding the Rules of Life – Microbiome Theory and Mechanisms

The Division of Integrative Organismal Systems (IOS) held a Virtual Office Hour on December 19th, 2019 focused on the new solicitation for Understanding the Rules of Life: Microbiome Theory and Mechanisms (URoL: MTM) (NSF 20-513).

  • From the solicitation, “The URoL:MTM program invites integrated, interdisciplinary proposals that develop theoretical predictive frameworks with well-designed experimental and/or computational approaches to generate and test hypotheses about the causal relationships within the microbiome, and among the microbiome, host, and environment.”

The URoL: MTM is an NSF-wide solicitation and it has some specifications that differ from the more familiar core BIO solicitations.

  1. There is a requirement for a letter of intent (LOI) for any projects being proposed and that letter is due to NSF by January 17th, 2020.
  2. The full proposal is due to NSF by March 2nd, 2020.
  3. There is a limit on the number of URoL: MTM proposals that an investigator may be Principal Investigator (PI) or co-PI on and that is one (1) per annual cycle.
  4. There are two (2) tracks that vary in the total budget one can request and the length of the project; Track 1 (MTM 1) is up to 3 years and a total budget of up to $500,000, Track 2 (MTM 2) is up to 5 years and a total budget of up to $3,000,000.

Attendees had several questions about this solicitation; some common themes were:

  • Should an investigator contact a program director regarding a potential project? – Yes, it is always a good idea to contact a program director regarding any project you are planning to submit to NSF, be it a URoL: MTM proposal or some other type of proposal. In the case of URoL: MTM proposals the email alias microbiome@nsf.gov will put you in contact with all of the participating program directors and they will respond to your inquiries related to projects, the two Tracks, and the URoL: MTM solicitation itself.
  • There were several different questions about the LOI and how detailed the LOI should be. – The required content for the LOI is given in the solicitation (NSF 20-513). To summarize, this is a short synopsis of the proposed work, an indication of the personnel on the project, and an idea of the budget. Only the total overall budget amount is required in the letter of intent; there is no need for a detailed budget or budget justification. A single letter of intent is needed for planned linked collaborative proposals; the lead PI and prime organization must remain the same for the full proposal.
  • A number of questions were focused on expectations for the research projects submitted to the URoL: MTM solicitation. – This solicitation does not dictate what techniques or experiments should be done. Researchers should choose the most appropriate techniques needed to address the questions they are proposing to pursue. As with any proposals submitted to the NSF, there is an expectation that preliminary data will be presented on techniques and questions you plan to use/explore to demonstrate feasibility and validity. Researchers may work in either natural or synthetic environments – they should choose those that best allow them to address the questions they are pursuing. Finally, given that this is an NSF-wide solicitation integration across scientific disciplines is expected. Projects that fit in the core NSF Programs are discouraged as are projects that fall within the purview of other granting agencies.
  • Several questions were about how the review process might be handled. – The constitution of the review panels will depend on the research topics of the submitted proposals. Proposals from both early career and more senior researchers will be reviewed together in panels. Panels will include scientists with diverse expertise and experience in multidisciplinary research to allow for evaluation of research on a variety of organisms and environments.

Join us at our next IOS Office Hour that will be held on Thursday, January 16th, 2020 at 1 pm EDT, when IOS program directors will be available to answer questions from the community and pass on information to investigators interested in IOS. Our January IOS Office Hour will focus on projects and questions around the Rules of Life track within the IOS core solicitation (NSF 18-586).