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Understanding the Rules of Life: Microbiome Interactions and Mechanisms  (URoL:MIM) NSF Wide Programs

Name Email Phone Room
Catalina  Achim (703) 292-2048   
Joaquin  Martinez Martinez (703) 292-8580   
Robert  Mayes (703) 292-7267   
Mamta  Rawat (703) 292-7265   
Karl  J. Rockne 703-292-5356   
Christopher  Sanford (703) 292-7512   
Sylvia  J. Spengler (703) 292-8930   


Solicitation  21-534

Important Information for Proposers

A revised version of the NSF Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide (PAPPG) (NSF 22-1), is effective for proposals submitted, or due, on or after October 4, 2021. Please be advised that, depending on the specified due date, the guidelines contained in NSF 22-1 may apply to proposals submitted in response to this funding opportunity.




In 2016, the National Science Foundation (NSF) unveiled a set of "Big Ideas," 10 bold, long-term research and process ideas that identify areas for future investment at the frontiers of science and engineering (see The Big Ideas represent unique opportunities to position our Nation at the cutting edge of global science and engineering by bringing together diverse disciplinary perspectives to support convergence research. As such, when responding to this solicitation, even though proposals must be submitted to the Division of Emerging Frontiers in the Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO/EF), once received, the proposals will be managed by a cross-disciplinary team of NSF Program Directors.

Understanding the Rules of Life (URoL): Predicting Phenotype is one of NSF’s 10 Big Ideas ( and is focused on predicting the set of observable characteristics (phenotypes) based on the genetic makeup of the individual and the nature of its environment. The Understanding the Rules of Life: Microbiome Interactions and Mechanisms (URoL:MIM) program is an integrative collaboration across several Directorates and Offices within the National Science Foundation. The objective of URoL:MIM is to understand interactions and mechanisms that govern the structure and function of microbiomes. By integrating the wide range of accumulated data and information on microbiome structure and function, new causal models of interactions and interdependencies across scales and systems can be generated. Elucidating these relationships will inform our understanding of the Rules of Life – the theoretical constructs and models that explain and predict the emergent characteristics of living systems, as seen in the robustness, resilience, and adaptability of the individual organisms, populations, and communities.

We define a microbiome as a collection of different microbes in a specific habitat. This may include non-host-associated microbiomes and host-associated microbiomes, such as those in humans and other organisms, where i) the microbiome impacts host physiology, behavior, development, and fitness; ii) the host influences the metabolic activity, dynamics and evolution of the microbiome, and iii) the environment (biological, chemical, physical, and social) influences and is influenced by both the host and the microbiome. 

The URoL:MIM program invites integrated, interdisciplinary proposals that create new knowledge in multiple disciplines to develop causal frameworks with well-designed scientific and/or computational approaches to test hypotheses about the relationships within the microbiome, and among the microbiome, the host, and the environment. Projects may develop new computational, mathematical, or experimental tools, and models, to: i) explain function and interactions in natural, experimental, and model microbiomes; ii) elucidate the chemical and molecular mechanisms that underlie communication between the host and the microbiome and among the members of the microbiome; and/or iii) comparatively analyze characteristics of microbiomes to discover emergent properties that provide insight into the behavior of living systems. 

Successful projects will contribute to a portfolio of research that identifies general principles ("rules") that underlie a wide spectrum of biological phenomena across different spatial, complexity (e.g., molecular, cellular, organismal, population), and/or temporal scales (from sub-second to geologic). URoL:MIM projects must be novel and innovative in more than one discipline (e.g., biology, chemistry, computer science, engineering, geology, mathematics, physics, social and behavioral sciences). They must also incorporate best practices regarding protocol documentation, sample selection, data collection and analysis, as well as data sharing and accessibility. URoL:MIM projects must provide workforce development and/or innovative undergraduate or graduate education opportunities that increase the pipeline for MIM in higher education and train the next generation of microbiome scientists. Projects should benefit society through engagement of the public and/or enhancement of K-12 STEM education.

URoL:MIM supports basic science research projects of different scales and scope. Projects may have a total budget of up to $3,000,000 and an award duration of up to 5 years.

What Has Been Funded (Recent Awards Made Through This Program, with Abstracts)

Map of Recent Awards Made Through This Program