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Adam Fagen is Executive Director of the Genetics Society of America where he works with the GSA Board to promote the interests of the genetics community and serve the needs of GSA's 5,500+ members. He has a background in genetics, science policy, and science education. (bio)
"hold | cancel" by Matthew DeWaal. CC BY-NC 2.0

National Science FoundationThe 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).

 

Collections in Support of Biological Research (CSBR)

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 society@genetics-gsa.org. Your input will help us develop a response that is appropriately inclusive.

 

Instrument Development for Biological Research (IDBR)

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.

 

 

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  1. Always a bridesmaid: Living collections, especially those holding microbes, seem to get overlooked in every discussion of collection policy.
    Although microbe collections (historically, culture collections) impact every field of biology, the benefit (publications) are removed from the cost and so it is difficult to demonstrate impact. While some collections have pseudo h-indexes in the low hundred, some have incalculable impact. The NRRL collection lists over 49,000 citations using strains from their collection.
    The NSF support for living microbe collections has been a small program for many years. The Fungal Genetics Stock Center was organized with GSA input in 1960 and was supported for over 50 years. Now with support from Kansas State University, the FGSC has had to raise fees and orders have dropped over half.
    The US Culture Collection Network (www.usccn.org) supports a distributed network of living microbe collections embedded in universities and research institutions with relevant expertise, with robust quality control, and as a partner to Tech Transfer offices and Regulatory agencies. Other countries and regions are developing such networks (eg, http://www.mirri.org in the EU or bccm.belspo.be/ in Belgium, or http://www.abrcn.net in Asia), and while the US has some of the most well established collections, there is neither a national plan, nor even a clear division of responsibilities. Check out the American Phytopathological Society plan for a National Plant-microbial germplasm system http://www.apsnet.org/members/outreach/ppb/Pages/CultureCollections.aspx