IOS Virtual Office Hours December 2020 Edition: Understanding Rules of Life: Microbiome Interactions and Mechanisms and Enabling Discovery through Genomics

The Division of Integrative Organismal Systems (IOS) held the December Virtual Office Hour (VOH) on December 17th, 2020 and focused on two topics.  First was the recently released solicitation for Understanding Rules of Life: Microbiome Interactions and Mechanisms (URoL:MIM NSF 21-534) and then the updated solicitation for Enabling Discovery through GEnomics (EDGE NSF 21-546).

A sampling of questions about the URoL:MIM program:

The URoL:MIM is a name change from an earlier call, has the focus of the solicitation changed? The change in the name is to reinforce that NSF is interested in funding mechanistic research that focuses on development of causal frameworks about the relationships within the microbiome, and among the microbiome, the host (if present), and the environment.

Is there a budget recommendation for these projects? The total budget (including indirect) can be up to $3,000,000. The budget should be appropriate for the proposed research and well-justified.

Can one have collaborators and can they be international collaborators? Are collaborative projects preferred?  A key criterion specific to the solicitation is the use of interdisciplinary approaches that develop new science in more than one research discipline. Investigators are encouraged to develop collaborations with researchers with complementary expertise to facilitate an interdisciplinary approach to address the overarching research question(s) relating to microbiomes. International collaborators are permitted but they should seek support from their respective funding organizations. NSF funding guidelines for international collaborators are very specific  and are described in the Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide (PAPPG) .

Should projects focus broadly on microbiomes or could they address host-microbe interactions? Projects should focus on understanding the interactions and mechanisms that govern the structure and function of microbiomes, which can be host-associated or not. The goal is to move microbiome science beyond descriptive, correlative research to establish explanatory and predictive relationships between and among the members of the microbiome, the host (if any), and the environment.

Can URoL:MIM projects have a human health focus, or can they use datasets generated from human health studies? URoL:MIM does not support research with disease-related goals, including the diagnosis and treatment of disease and animal models for those diseases. However, datasets generated from human health studies can be used to understand basic, fundamental rules of life that govern microbiome structure and function. Such datasets also can be used to build causal models of interactions and interdependencies within the microbiome, and among the microbiome, the host (if any), and the environment.

A sampling of questions about the EDGE program:

Does the EDGE program support research on model and non-model organisms?  Should research be lab- or field-based?  The emphasis of the EDGE program is on functional genomics in diverse organisms.  Proposals submitted to the FUNCTIONAL GENOMIC TOOLS (FG) track should aim to develop and provide proof-of-concept tests of functional genomic tools and infrastructure in diverse species for which such tools and infrastructure are presently unavailable. For the COMPLEX MULTIGENIC TRAITS (CM) track, the use of traditional model organisms is permitted, but proposals must demonstrate the generalizability of the results beyond the focal species across contexts. For either track, there is no requirement that research be lab- or field-based.

Does the EDGE program still support tool development and dissemination? What about hypothesis driven questions, should they include tool development or use recently developed tools? Can you have a project that includes tool development and hypothesis driven research?  The EDGE program continues to support tool and infrastructure development, as well as activities that enable community access to these resources. Proposals with these objectives should be submitted to the FG track and should be limited to proof-of-concept tests of the tools or infrastructure, and not include testing of novel hypotheses.  Proposals submitted to the CM track should include hypothesis-driven research that advances understanding of the relationship between genomes and complex multi-genic traits, toward the goal of predicting phenotypes across diverse contexts.  Proposals submitted to this track may include the development of theory, analytical approaches, and/or tools to achieve the scientific goal.

Does one need to define the community that might be impacted by an EDGE project and should funds be set aside to help contact potential users? Proposals submitted to the FG track benefit from an existing community of researchers using the target organism. This community should be described clearly in the “Research Community Impact” section of the project description. The EDGE program does not support research on the promise that a research community will form around an organism once functional genomic tools become available. Submissions to the FG track also must include a Dissemination and Education Plan.

Can one include bioinformatics in proposals for the functional genomic tools track? Examples of relevant objectives for the FG track include, but are not limited to:  the development of mutant libraries and/or high-quality reference genomes; generalizable high-throughput phenotyping methods; innovative approaches for establishing function of single or networks of genes. Pursuing these objectives may include the development of innovative bioinformatic and/or data science tools. However, for proposals focused exclusively on bioinformatic or data science tool development investigators are encouraged to contact the Infrastructure Innovation for Biological Research program in NSF’s Division of Biological Infrastructure to discuss programmatic fit.

Join us at our next IOS Office Hour to be held on Thursday, January 21st, 2021 at 1 pm EST, when IOS program directors will be available to answer questions from the community and pass on information about IOS.  In January we will discuss the new Integrative Research in Biology solicitation (IntBIO, NSF 21-543).