BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES                                     $417,820,000

The FY 1999 Budget Request for the Biological Sciences Activity (BIO) is $417.82 million, an increase of $47.0 million, or 12.7 percent, over the FY 1998 Current Plan of $370.82 million.

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The Biological Sciences Activity provides support for research to advance understanding of the underlying principles and mechanisms governing life. Research ranges from the study of the structure and dynamics of biological molecules, such as proteins and nucleic acids, through cells, organs and organisms, to studies of populations and ecosystems. It encompasses processes that are internal to the organism as well as those that are external, and includes temporal frameworks ranging from measurements in real time through individual life spans, to the full scope of evolutionary time.

The highest priority within the BIO Activity is to support the vitality of the biological sciences at U.S. colleges and universities, especially in those areas where NSF has major responsibility. The Foundation is the nation's principal supporter of fundamental academic research in environmental biology, biodiversity, computational biology, bioinformatics, and plant biology.

The Plant Genome Research Subactivity (PGR), begun in FY 1998, supports research that will advance understanding of the structure, organization and function of plant genomes. This effort is built upon an existing base of genome research supported throughout the BIO activity. Enhanced support for fundamental research will accelerate utilization of new knowledge and innovative technologies toward a more complete understanding of basic biological processes in plants, with emphasis on economically significant species such as corn.

More than 85 percent of BIO funding is directed toward investigator-initiated, fundamental research, predominantly in colleges and universities, across the United States. Emphasis is placed on support for studies that enrich the fundamental knowledge base, for projects integrating research and education, and for high risk/high potential research. BIO also places a high priority on support for new investigators beginning their scientific careers; approximately one-third of all new competitive research awards made by BIO are to new investigators. BIO plays a major role in support of research resources for the biological sciences including multi-user instrumentation, living stock centers, genome sequencing, systematics collections, and computerized databases.

In FY 1999, the BIO Activity will increase funding by a total of $47.0 million. A significant portion of this increase will be directed toward enhancing research support in three broad, overlapping NSF themes: Knowledge and Distributed Intelligence (KDI), Life and Earth’s Environment (LEE) and Educating for the Future (EFF). The remainder of the increase will be directed to research activities outside of these themes to build the knowledge base essential to the next breakthroughs in scientific research and to identify potential investment opportunities.

Knowledge and Distributed Intelligence: In FY 1999 BIO will include an increase of $24.50 million for KDI. Plans will include:

Life and Earth’s Environment: In FY1999, BIO will provide an increase of $13.36 million for LEE to be used to enhance areas of emphasis within BIO including: biodiversity studies; environmental impacts on life forms (and vice versa); environmental informatics including interoperable/interrelational biodiversity databases; and fundamental research on the role of environmental perturbations that disrupt the endocrine system in individual organisms.

The increase will also allow for development of focused new components within this area of emphasis:

Educating for the Future: In FY 1999, BIO will provide an increase of $5.75 million for EFF, which includes support for a range of programs supporting innovative approaches to meeting the challenge of educating students for the twenty-first century. Plans will include: In addition, support for EFF includes $1.0 million for the addition of a K-12 science education component to the field station and marine laboratory program, which will allow access to these sites to engage students in biological studies. BIO also will initiate a new postdoctoral program focused on the emerging field of biological informatics; funding for this program is provided through the planned phase out of existing BIO postdoctoral programs.

Key Program Functions

BIO supports its ongoing and new activities through the following key program functions:

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1 Includes only costs charged to the R&RA Appropriation.  

Research Project Support

Research supported spans all the biological disciplines represented in the BIO Subactivities. Modern biological science, with the increasing costs for supplies, equipment, and teams of scientists and students at all levels of education, require an enhancement in award size to fully enable the research. An average new research award within the BIO Activity in FY 1999 will total $285,000 over three years of support, a 12 percent increase over FY 1998.

In FY 1999, BIO will implement efforts to address Foundation-wide concerns about grant sizes by increasing the average size and duration of the awards and providing more support for researchers, with particular attention to new investigators. These efforts will also contribute to increasing the efficiency of the Foundation's merit review process and achieve greater cost-effectiveness for both NSF and the university community.

The BIO Activity also supports research resources for the biological sciences. These include support for living stock centers, marine laboratories and terrestrial field stations, databases, multi-user instrumentation, development of instrumentation and new techniques, and genome sequencing.

Specific NSF-wide research programs enable the development of human resources in BIO. Examples include: the Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER); Research in Undergraduate Institutions (RUI); and Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) site awards and supplements to existing research projects.

In FY 1999, BIO will participate in a Foundation-wide inititative on Research on K-12 Education and Training Technologies. This initiative, a partnership with the Department of Education, will include support for efforts such as basic research on educational, relevant technologies; research aimed at developing educational software and technology-enabled pedagogy; and studies to determine the most effective educational approaches and practices.

The BIO Activity will provide an increase for core research support in FY 1999. Multidisciplinary research requires a strong disciplinary base in all areas of science and engineering. This increase will be used to enhance support for fundamental research across the BIO disciplines. Enhancement of core disciplinary support builds the knowledge base essential for the next breakthroughs in scientific research and identifies potential investment opportunities.

In FY 1999, BIO will also continue to participate in the Foundation-wide Major Research Instrumentation program to support the acquisition and development of research instrumentation for academic institutions.

BIO-supported centers include Science and Technology Centers, Long Term Ecological Research sites, a Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, and Plant Genome Centers.

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The BIO Activity supports five Science and Technology Centers (STCs):

The BIO STCs support researchers and students at all levels from undergraduate to postdoctoral. Collaborative arrangements with industry are strongly pursued by all STCs. In FY 1998, support for the STCs established in FY 1989 (the Center for Molecular Biotechnology and the Center for Microbial Ecology) are beginning a planned phase-out.

The Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, established in FY 1995, promotes integrative studies of complex ecological questions and serves as a locus for synthesis of large data sets. The goals of the Center are to advance the state of ecological knowledge through the search for universal patterns and principles and to organize and synthesize ecological information so that it will be useful in addressing important environmental issues. The synthesis and analysis of information will facilitate understanding of complex ecological questions, for example, tundra responses to temperature change, and oscillations in the populations of various species.

In FY 1998, BIO provides support for 19 Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) sites. The U.S. Polar Research Programs Activity supports two additional sites in Antarctica. All 21 LTER sites are representative of major ecosystems, ranging from the Arctic tundra of Alaska, to the desert of New Mexico, to the rain-forests of Puerto Rico, to the Dry Valleys of Antarctica. The recent addition of two sites in human-dominated, urban ecosystems and one in a coastal ecosystem, jointly supported with GEO, has substantially expanded the network. Increases in LTER funding this year will enhance support for: (1) cross-site studies, (2) the study of urban communities as ecological systems, and (3) the study of microbial systems.

The Urban LTERs are an important component in the NSF-wide initiative on urban systems. This initiative explores ways to approach human-environment interactions through interdisciplinary investigations of urban systems. The urban sites foster scientific collaborations among natural and social scientists, engineers, urban planners, and educators, and are developing the methodology for including humans as integral parts of ecosystem studies.

In FY 1998, the BIO and GEO Activities are collaborating to establish one new LTER site that focuses on ecological systems at the interfaces of land masses and coastal oceans (including the Laurentian Great Lakes). This site will expand our knowledge of the organization and function of land/ocean-margin ecosystems, the linkages between these systems and adjacent terrestrial and marine systems, and the impacts of major natural environmental perturbations in these regions.

The Plant Genome Research Subactivity supports virtual (distributed) centers and collaboratories where coordinated, multi-investigator teams pursue comprehensive plant genome research programs relevant to economically important plants. These centers also provide an ideal environment to nurture and train young scientists in cutting-edge research technologies and expose them to new paradigms in plant biology.


In FY 1999, BIO will maintain support for the National Nanofabrication Users Network at the FY 1998 level of $300,000 to facilitate participation by biologists. This facility is supported in partnership with the Mathematics and Physical Sciences and the Engineering Activities.

The BIO Activity also provides support (in conjunction with the Materials Research Subactivity in the MPS Activity) for the Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source (CHESS). CHESS is one of the premier facilities for synchrotron x-ray crystallography in the U.S. The high intensity electron beams of synchrotron sources are used for high resolution studies of biological crystals with large unit cells, such as viruses.

Education and Training

BIO places a high priority on programs for education, training and human resource development. This emphasis ensures that the next generation of scientists is adequately prepared for a scientific future that increasingly blurs borders between scientific disciplines, and that is increasingly dependent on technology and on the sharing and analyzing of information via distributed intelligence. This emphasis on education and training also aids in the development of a scientifically and technologically literate populace.

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Included within BIO is support for postdoctoral programs, Collaborative Research at Undergraduate Institutions, BIO Research Training Groups, and the NSF-wide program for Integrative Graduate Education and Research Training.

BIO’s support for focused undergraduate programs centers on the Collaborative Research at Undergraduate Institutions (C-RUI) program, established in FY 1995. This program was designed to support new multidisciplinary collaborative research groups at primarily undergraduate institutions. Each group is composed of faculty members representing at least two disciplinary areas and includes up to 10 undergraduates.

The Research Training Groups (RTG) program was established in FY 1990 to address the growing need for researchers/teachers educated beyond the boundaries of a single, narrow discipline, and across traditional department boundaries. It provides support for training undergraduates, graduate students, and postdoctoral scientists in a multidisciplinary research setting, focused on a particular research topic. The NSF-wide Integrative Graduate Education and Research Training (IGERT) program, which was modeled after the BIO RTG program, was initiated in FY 1998. BIO’s RTG program will phase down as its activities are replaced by the IGERT program.

Postdoctoral research fellowships are supported within BIO in priority areas where there are shortages of adequately trained scientists.

Administration and Management

The administration and management key program function includes the cost of Intergovernmental Personnel Act appointments and contractors performing administrative functions.


The Plant Genome Research Subactivity was established in FY 1998 to support research to produce new knowledge and discoveries about the structure, organization and function of plant genomes, leading to conceptual breakthroughs and new insights relevant to economically significant plants.