NSF – Biotechnology Opportunities

December 21, 2020 by dld5dt@virginia.edu


The National Science Foundation (NSF) recently released two solicitations for new programs connected to biotechnology, one of the Industries of the Future that federal agencies have prioritized within their research portfolios.  NSF anticipates that both programs will support research leading to technology developments that will drive the nation’s bioeconomy.  These programs are housed within the Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) and the Directorate for Mathematical and Physical Sciences (MPS). While these programs are thematically similar, researchers are encouraged to review the individual solicitations to determine which is a better fit for their work.


1.The Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) within the National Science Foundation (NSF) has released a solicitation for a new program called Integrative Research in Biology (IntBIO). This program, which replaces the Rules of Life track within BIO’s core programs, seeks to fund research that tackles important questions in the life sciences through an integrative approach to biological research. IntBIO will synergize with other initiatives across BIO focused on integration, including the Postdoctoral Research Fellowships in Biology and the Biology Integration Institutes. IntBIO aims to support similar research and training opportunities as the Biology Integration Institutes, but on a smaller scale (i.e., with a smaller cohort of researchers focused on exploring one system).

The IntBIO solicitation articulates five components that each submitted proposal should include:

  • “Bold questions using an integrative approach” – a description of the overarching research question, including emphasis on how the approach to the question cuts across biological subdisciplines and hierarchical organizational scales;
  • “Nature of the integration and synergistic outcomes” – an explicit description of the interdependent, integrative components of the research project and how the research will lead to synergistic outcomes;
  • “Graphical illustration” – should convey how integration will be achieved through the project, and can be referenced to explain integration strategies in the proposal;
  • “Collaborative team” – each project team should include two or more investigators (from the same organization or multiple organizations) with diverse perspectives and expertise and clearly defined roles within the project; and
  • “Training, inclusion, and diversity plans” – should explain how the project contributes to the development of a new generation of scientists trained in integrative biological research, as well as plans for advancing diversity and inclusion through the project.

2. The National Science Foundation (NSF) has released a solicitation through the Division of Chemistry within the Directorate for Mathematical and Physical Sciences for a new program called Molecular Foundations for Biotechnology (MFB): Partnerships to Transform the Industries of the Future. The MFB Program will fund collaborative, high risk/high reward research on innovative chemistry approaches aimed at driving new directions in biotechnology, a key Industry of the Future.

Topics targeted by this solicitation include:

  • “Development of novel bioorthogonal chemistry that can be used to study protein structure and function in complex biological environments.
  • Highly innovative methods for the selective labeling of (i) specific domains or motifs in proteins; (ii) specific classes of proteins based on activity class or active site architecture (e.g. creative activity-based protein profiling) or (iii) proteins in specific cellular compartments.
  • Creative methods that use small molecules to alter the fate of proteins, for example, via targeted protein degradation beyond conventional bifunctional probe-based approaches.”

The solicitation notes that proposals involving enzyme inhibitor synthesis, medicinal chemistry, directed enzyme evolution and biocatalysis are not within the scope of the MFB program.

Key Dates:

1. Full proposals are due March 16, 2021. Additional deadlines are planned for January 25, 2022 and the fourth Tuesday in January in subsequent years. Letters of intent or preliminary proposals are not required.

2. Letters of Intent are required for this program and are due January 14, 2021. Full proposals are due March 16, 2021.

URLs for more information:

  1. https://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2021/nsf21543/nsf21543.htm
  2. https://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2021/nsf21540/nsf21540.htm

Filed Under: Funding Opportunities