NSF puts collections and instrument development programs on hiatus
The National Science Foundation’s Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) has put two funding programs on hiatus, pending an evaluation of the “long term resource needs and research priorities” within the directorate. The suspended programs are both within BIO’s Division of Biological Infrastructure (DBI).
The Collections in Support of Biological Research program had been providing funding for three major activities:
- improvements to secure and organize collections that are significant to the NSF BIO-funded research community;
- secure collections-related data for sustained, accurate, and efficient accessibility to the biological research community; and
- transfer ownership of collections.
The collections supported by the program include established living stock/culture collections, non-living natural history collections, and ancillary collections such as preserved tissues and DNA libraries.
Those of particular interest to the GSA community include the San Diego Drosophila Species Stock Center, Chlamydomonas Resource Center, Arabidopsis Biological Resource Center, Bacillus Genetic Stock Center, and E. coli Genetic Stock Center.
The program also experienced a similar pause in funding in 2013 during a shift from an annual to biennial deadline cycle (which was later reversed). Although DBI acknowledges the importance of infrastructure provided by the CSBR program, they are concerned about the relationship of the program to other related NSF programs.
To that end, NSF is soliciting feedback from the community and is especially interested in responses to the following questions:
- Is the scope of collection support provided by CSBR adequate and appropriate to address the research and education community needs? If there are gaps, what are these and how should they be addressed?
- What is known about how the collections-related programs (CSBR, Advancing Digitization of Biodiversity Collections, and the Collections track of Postdoctoral Research Fellowships in Biology) leverage one another (anecdotal evidence is welcome!)?
- What are the impacts of the CSBR program that are innovative and/or transformative in understanding unanswered questions in biology or that significantly impact education or outreach?
- Are there other issues or metrics that should be considered during evaluation of the CSBR program; e.g., encouraging data publications that cite specimens, societal benefits (such as environmental impacts, education/workforce development, and economic benefits), etc.?
GSA is working with several living stocks collections—as well as our policy partners—to develop a formal response, but we encourage individuals to submit their own comments to NSF by writing to DBICSBR@nsf.gov.
The Drosophila Species Stock Center is asking its users to write a letter to NSF supporting the value of living collections, and describing how important the center is to their research and STEM training.
They encourage users to try to include any one (or all) of the following in their letter: 1) how they use the stocks in their research, 2) if/how they use stocks in STEM training, 3) how stocks have facilitated new and exciting research trajectories.
We also invite members of the community to share your perspectives with GSA through comments below or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Your input will help us develop a response that is appropriately inclusive.
The Instrument Development for Biological Research program had been supporting the “development, production, and distribution of novel instrumentation” that address needs in areas of biological research supported by NSF BIO. This has included two types of proposals:
Type A – Innovation: Proposals for the development of novel instrumentation that provides new research capabilities or, where appropriate, that significantly improves current technologies by at least an order of magnitude in fundamental aspects such as accuracy, precision, resolution, throughput, flexibility, breadth of application, costs of construction or operation, or user-friendliness.
Type B – Bridging: Proposals for transforming ‘one of a kind’ prototypes or high-end instruments into devices that are broadly available and utilizable without loss of capacity. If appropriate, PIs should seek SBIR/STTR Program, or similar support mechanism for implementation of broad distribution following an IDBR award.
The program has not supported access to an instrument in a user facility nor to enhance research capabilities in a specific lab or institution.
- Nala Rogers, “Biologists ask NSF to reconsider plan to pause collections funding program,” ScienceInsider, March 25, 2016.
- Anna Nowogrodzhi, “Biological specimen troves threatened by funding pause,” Nature News, March 21, 2016.
- National Science Collections Alliance, “NSCA and Others Urge NSF to Reconsider CSBR Hiatus,” March 24, 2016.
- Bethany Drehman, “NSF places two biological infrastructure programs on hiatus,” FASEB – The Washington Update, April 7, 2016.