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Fact Sheet – Research Opportunities in Microbial Biology (pdf)









BIO Directorate Programs Exclusively Microbial in Scope


Microbial Genome Sequencing Program (collaboration with USDA, CSREES) – supports sequencing and annotation of microbial genomes, including viruses, bacteria, archea, fungi, and protists.


Microbial Observatories and Microbial Interactions and Processes -- supports integrative studies that explore novel microorganisms, their interactions in consortia and communities, and aspects of their physiology, biochemistry and genomics in relationship to the processes that they carry out in the environment.  (The Microbial Observatories component is a collaboration with USDA, CSREES)



Programs in the Biological Sciences Directorate (BIO) that Include Microbial Components (listed by Division) 


Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB)

NOTE: The Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences currently uses a cross-cluster panel to evaluate proposals on Prokaryotic Molecular and Cellular Biology topics.


Biomolecular Systems Cluster - includes the scientific themes of molecular biochemistry (research on the structure and function of macromolecules), molecular biophysics (the assembly, atomic structure and 3-D architecture of nucleic acids, proteins, and other biological macromolecules), and metabolic biochemistry (including cellular physiology, enzymology and biochemistry).


Genes and Genome Systems Cluster – includes the scientific themes of gene expression (research on the mechanisms and regulation of transcription, RNA processing and translation), eukaryotic, prokaryotic and viral genetic mechanisms (including nucleic acid replication recombination and repair) and evolution of genes, genomes and genetic mechanisms.


Cellular Systems Cluster - includes the scientific themes of cell organization (research on cell division and cell cycles, DNA segregation, motility, endospore formation, secretion, protein targeting and interactions), and signal transduction/cellular regulation (cell-cell communication, quorum sensing, biofilm assembly, two component systems, chemosensing, cell differentiation and signaling). 


Division of Integrative Organismal Biology (IOB)


Behavioral Systems Cluster - focuses on the development, function, mechanisms, and evolution of behavior, biological rhythms, and interactions between organisms including animals, plants, and microbes. This area supports research on social and reproductive behavior; behavioral ecology and physiology; physiological responses, chemical communication, and studies of plant interactions with other organisms.


Developmental Systems Cluster - focuses on the nature, control, and evolution of those processes that comprise the life cycle of organisms.  This area includes research on the mechanisms of gametogenesis, fertilization, embryogenesis, differentiation, pattern formation, and morphogenesis. 


Environmental and Structural Systems Cluster- focuses on the function and evolution of organisms in their physiochemical and biotic environments.  Included are studies of evolutionary aspects of physiology, physiological ecology, and functional morphology.


Functional and Regulatory Systems Cluster - focuses on fundamental physiological mechanisms and how they have evolved, with emphasis on organisms as integrated systems.  This area includes comparative physiology at the genetic, genomic, cellular, tissue, organ, system, and organismal levels of organization.


Division of Environmental Biology (DEB)


Systematic Biology and Biodiversity Inventories Cluster (SBBI) – supports the general science of systematics, whose three main missions are: to discover, describe, and inventory global species diversity; to analyze and synthesize the information derived from this global discovery effort into predictive classification systems that reflect the history of life; and to organize the information derived from this global program in efficiently retrievable forms that best meet the needs of science and society;

Planetary Biodiversity Inventory (PBI) To accelerate the discovery and study of the world’s biodiversity, proposals are invited from teams of investigators to conduct a worldwide, species-level systematic inventory of a major group of organisms. Each project should conduct fieldwork necessary to fill gaps in existing collections, produce descriptions, taxonomic revisions, web-searchable databases, and interactive keys (or other automated identification tools) for all new and known species in the targeted group, analyze their phylogenetic relationships, and establish predictive classifications for the group. Proposals may target any particular group of organisms, from terrestrial, fresh-water, or marine habitats, at any feasible level in the taxonomic hierarchy, but must be global in scope.

Partnerships for Enhancing Expertise in Taxonomy (PEET)  seeks to enhance taxonomic research and help prepare future generations of experts. Through its Special Biennial Competition in Systematic Biology, NSF will support competitively reviewed projects that target groups of poorly known organisms for modern monographic research. Projects must train new taxonomists (two per project minimally) and must translate current expertise into electronic databases and other products with broad accessibility to the scientific community.


Population and Evolutionary Processes Cluster (PEP) – supports research that focuses on population properties that lead to variation within and among populations. Approaches include empirical and theoretical studies of microevolution, organismal adaptation, geographical differentiation, natural hybridization and speciation, as well as processes that lead to macroevolutionary patterns of trait evolution;


Ecological Biology Cluster (EB) – supports studies of community ecology and population interactions at diverse spatial and temporal scales.  These include (1) dynamics and processes within particular habitats; (2) food-web structure; (3) landscape patterns and processes; (4) paleoecology; (5) biotic interactions, including mutualism, competition, predation, and parasitism; (6) mechanisms of coexistence and community assembly, (7) co-evolution, and (8) chemical ecology;


Ecosystem Science Cluster (ES) – supports investigations of whole-system ecological processes and relationships in ecosystems across a diversity of spatial and temporal scales.  Proposals may focus on areas such as: biogeochemistry; decomposition of organic matter; belowground nutrient cycling and energy flow; primary productivity; radiatively active gas flux; element budgets on watershed, regional, continental, or global scales; relationships between diversity and ecosystem function; ecosystem services; and landscape dynamics.


 Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grants in the Directorate for Biological Sciences - are available in the Divisions of Integrative Organismal Biology and The Division of Environmental Biology and provide partial support for doctoral dissertation research to improve the overall quality of the research, to allow doctoral candidates to conduct research in specialized facilities or field settings away from the home campus, and to provide opportunities for greater diversity in collecting and creativity in analyzing data than would otherwise be possible using only locally available resources.


BIO-Wide Programs--Emerging Frontiers


Assembling the Tree of Life (ATOL)a 10 to 15-year effort to collect and analyze data that will resolve phylogenetic relationships for all known species, including microbes.


Ecology of Infectious Disease(EID)  (in collaboration with NIH)– special competition that supports predictive-oriented research on the ecology of infection and transmission of pathogens in relationship to anthropogenic changes.


Frontiers in Integrative Biological Research (FIBR) – special competition for large grants to support multi-disciplinary teams of scientists bringing their diverse expertise together to cohesively address major biological questions.


Research Coordination Networks (RCN) – supports coordination activities among a community of researchers working on a common theme.  Some themes have been microbial, e.g. the phylogeny of the fungi.


Research Initiation Grants (RIG) and Career Advancement Awards (CAA) to Broaden Participation in the Biological Sciences the two funding opportunities under this solicitation share the goal of broadening the participation of scientists from groups underrepresented in the biological sciences in the U.S. These activities seek to promote the development and retention of scientists from underrepresented groups and to increase the numbers of such individuals that serve as role models for the scientific workforce of the future.

Division of Biological Infrastructure (DBI)


Human Resources Cluster – support includes research experiences for undergraduates (sites), undergraduate mentoring in environmental biology, cross-disciplinary research at undergraduate institutions, and, in selected disciplines, postdoctoral research fellowships;


 Research Resources Cluster – includes support for living stocks collections (e.g., operation or improvement of microbial culture collections), biological databases and informatics (including development and curation of various types of microbial-relevant databases) and infrastructure support for field stations and marine labs.


Undergraduate Mentoring in Environmental Biology (UMEB)-- is designed to enable institutions to create programs that will encourage undergraduate students, especially those from under-represented groups, to pursue a career in environmental biology. The UMEB Program supports projects that provide year-round support for undergraduate students to gain research experience in environmental biology.


NSF-Wide Activities


Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) – recognizes and supports the early career-development activities of those teacher-scholars who are most likely to become the academic leaders of the 21st century; CAREER proposals are based on a combined research and education plan.  In BIO CAREER proposals are reviewed in the same panels as research proposals.


Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship Program (IGERT) – support for cross-disciplinary training programs based on a scientific theme.  IGERT proposals based on microbial themes are welcome.


Research Experiences for Undergraduates Sites (REU Sites) –supports undergraduate research participation on projects for a number of students at a particular institution or institutional consortium.  Proposals for REU sites involving microbial biology are welcome.



Programs Relevant to Microbial Research in Other NSF Directorates


Engineering Directorate (ENG)


Division of Bioengineering and Environmental Systems (BES)


Biochemical Engineering and Biotechnology – supports research in fermentation and enzyme technology, metabolic pathway engineering, biosensor development, bioreactor design and bioprocess optimization, bioseparation and purification processes;


Biomedical Engineering and Research to Aid Persons with Disabilities (BME/RAPD) - focuses on high impact transforming technologies for deriving information from cells, tissues, organs, and organ systems, extraction of useful information from complex biomedical signals, new approaches to the design of structures and materials for eventual medical use, and new methods of controlling living systems;


Environmental Engineering and Technology – supports studies of the roles of microorganisms in wastewater treatment, groundwater restoration, soil remediation and landfill processes; microbial-induced corrosion, microbial transformations of hazardous materials, disinfection, and modeling of microbial decomposition systems;


Interagency Opportunities in Metabolic Engineering – (with 7 other federal agencies) supports the targeted and purposeful alteration of metabolic pathways found in an organism in order to better understand and utilize cellular pathways for chemical transformation, energy transduction and biomolecular assembly.



Geosciences Directorate (GEO)


Division of Ocean Sciences (OCE)


Biological Oceanographysupports research in marine ecology, including ecosystem and biogeochemical processes, community and population ecology, behavioral, reproductive and life-history ecology, physiological and chemical ecology, molecular, cellular and biochemical studies and evolutionary ecology;


Chemical Oceanographysupports work on microbial processes, which are implicated in a large fraction of the program’s research particularly in the areas of (a) material transfers, transformations, and fluxes at the air-sea, land-sea, and seafloor interfaces, and (b) marine biogeochemical processes, including those exerting major impacts on global-scale processes;


Marine Geology and Geophysics (MGG) - supports research on processes that occur on and below the seafloor and at the water/sediment/rock interface, including the interaction of microbes with solid substrates such as sediments, rocks and minerals, and precipitates;


Physical Oceanography - supports research in cooperation with the Biological and Chemical Oceanography programs that pertain to microbial assemblages and their ambient physical environment, including the way the ocean's physical structure interacts with the biological and chemical processes within it, and with interactions between the ocean and the atmosphere, solid earth and ice that surround it;


Ocean Drilling Program (OD) supports international exploration of Earth's crust beneath the ocean revealing the composition, structure, and history of the submerged portion of Earth's surface, including the biological assemblages living in the deep subsurface;


Ocean Technology and Interdisciplinary Coordination (OTIC) - Instrument Development includes support for instrumentation development to enhance research on marine microbes;


Cooperative Activities in Environmental Research between the National Science Foundation and the European Commission: Ecology and Oceanography of Harmful Algae - supports research on the biological, ecological, geochemical and physical processes that underlie the phenomenon of bloom formation in toxic and noxious algae.  This is a special focused program, cooperative with a number of other federal agencies;


Ridge 2000 – a special focus research program that supports integrated geological and biological studies of the Earth-encircling mid-ocean ridge system, including the origin and evolution of microbial life forms linked to, and perhaps an inevitable consequence of, the flow of energy and material from Earth's deep mantle, through the volcanic and hydrothermal systems of the oceanic crust, to the deep ocean.  This program is funded cooperatively by Marine Geology and Geophysics and Biological Oceanography;


Ecology of Infectious Diseases – special competition that supports predictive-oriented research on the ecology of infection and transmission of pathogens in relationship to anthropogenic changes.  This competition is led by the BIO Directorate;


Development of Technologies for Coastal Observing Systems and the Study of Benthic Boundary Layer Processes - this is a special focus research program that supports integrated research on physical and meteorological processes that promote high biological productivity, active sedimentary processes, dynamic chemical transformations and intense air-sea interactions, including those involving microbes.



Atmospheric Sciences Division (ATM)

Programs support fundamental research in the composition, abundance, and effects (cloud physics, precipitation chemistry, human health, etc.) of microbes in the atmosphere, including transport, survival, and growth, and existence of microbial communities in the atmosphere. 


Earth Sciences Division (EAR)


Cooperative Studies of the Earth’s Deep Interior - supports basic research on the character and dynamics of the Earth's mantle and core, their influence on the evolution of the Earth as a whole, and on processes operating within the deep interior that affect or are expressed on the Earth's surface;


Geobiology and Low-Temperature Geochemistry (GG)-  encourages studies of 1) the interactions between biological and geological systems at all scales of space and time; 2) the role of life in the evolution of the earth’s system; 3) processes, rates, and mechanisms of inorganic and organic geochemical phenomena occurring at or near the earth’s surface now and in the past, and at the broad spectrum of interfaces ranging in scale from planetary and regional to mineral-surface and supramolecular, including soil mineralogy and chemistry, and the chemistry of sediments; 4) surficial chemical and biogeochemical systems and cycles and their modification through natural and anthropogenic change; and 5) development of tools, methods, and models for low-temperature geochemistry and geobiological research, including biomineralization. GG facilitates cross-disciplinary efforts to harness new bioanalytical tools - such as those emerging from molecular biology - in the study of the terrestrial environment at a broad range of temporal and spatial scales;


Hydrologic Sciences - focuses on terrestrial processes that comprise the hydrologic cycle including evapotranspiration, precipitation, infiltration, overland and streamflow, subsurface percolation and the transport of solutes, nutrients, and particles by these fluxes. This program encourages studies probing the spatial and temporal heterogeneity of water and chemical fluxes and storages from local to global scales – including residence times, interfacial fluxes, pathways among system compartments, and research in geolimnology and hydrologic impacts on microbial communities. HS also supports research in aqueous geochemistry directly connected to hydrologic processes and the physical, chemical, and biological processes taking place as water bodies change;


Sedimentary Geology and Paleobiology - supports studies of: (1) life and ecology in past geologic time based on fossil plants, animals, and microbes; (2) stratified rocks and interpretation of the historical information they contain; (3) the science of dating and measuring the time sequence of events of the Earth’s past; and (4) the production, transport and deposition of physical and chemical sediments.  SGP especially encourages integrative studies at the national and international levels that seek to link subdisciplines, such as paleoclimatology, paleobiogeography, and paleoenvironmental and paleoecologic reconstructions.


GEO-Wide Activities


Opportunities for Enhancing Diversity in the Geosciences (OEDG) - supports activities that will increase the number of members of underrepresented groups that: i) are involved in formal pre-college geoscience education programs; ii) pursue bachelor, master and doctoral degrees in the geosciences; iii) enter geoscience careers; and iv) participate in formal geoscience education programs




Office of Polar Programs


Antarctic Biology and Medicine (ABM) – supports research on molecular and cellular processes as well as on physiology and ecology of Antarctic microorganisms and microbial roles in Antarctic ecosystems;


Arctic Natural Sciences (ANS) - supports projects that emphasize understanding of the adaptation of organisms to the arctic environment; ecology; microbiology; ecosystem structure and processes; and the biological consequences of ultraviolet radiation. Any aspects of these relating to microbiology are appropriate and ANS currently supports a wide array of microbial research;.

Arctic System Sciences (ARCSS) - supports interdisciplinary research projects that examine the arctic system interaction with total Earth system and contribute to or are influenced by global change.  This includes several projects that study processes mediated by microbes.

International Polar Year (IPY) - The international community of polar researchers and funding agents has begun planning for an International Polar Year (IPY) to take place March 2007-March 2009 (see http://dels.nas.edu/us-ipy and http://www.ipy.org/). Proposals to perform activities related to planning or execution of the IPY may be submitted to this program solicitation and should identify their relevance to IPY activities. The proposed activities should be consistent with program goals described in this solicitation.



updated 01/24/06