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National Science Foundation
Life Science Frontiers
Long Live the Queen!
April Showers Bring May Flowers?
One Step at a Time!
Take One for the Team!
2005 FIBR Awards
Classroom Resources
Cover Credit: Animation by Zina Deretsky, National Science Foundation

Microscopic photo of metal-oxidizing bacteria.
New insight into bacterial genetics provides improved understanding that may change old dogma.

Credit: University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and University of the Free State, South Africa's Research Experiences for Undergraduates program


Some of the most profound questions in the life sciences cannot be answered by using the traditional techniques of biology alone. Researchers will also need creative ideas and hypotheses, and innovative tools, from many fields – including mathematics and the physical sciences, engineering, social sciences, and computer and information sciences.

Image of DNA.
Cutting-edge techniques to study plant and animal genomes are integral to FIBR projects.

Credit: Comstock Images/Getty Images

The National Science Foundation’s Frontiers in Integrative Biological Research Program (FIBR, pronounced “fiber”) is designed to encourage such novel partnerships and interdisciplinary approaches, and then to apply them to understand major topics in biology. Among them:

  • Nature and nurture. How much of an organism’s behavior can be explained by inheritance and genes (nature) and how much by social interactions (nurture)?
  • Interaction and independence. As an organism evolves, how much does it depend on others (interaction) and how much on itself (independence)?
  • Adapt and adopt. When faced with a new threat or opportunity, when does a life form tend to change existing behavior in steps (adapt), and when does it “invent” an entirely new response (adopt)?
Projects supported by FIBR will address those and other questions through new combinations of advanced knowledge and cutting-edge techniques from areas as diverse as genomics, ecology, computer science, mathematics, statistics and robotics.

"FIBR scientists take on the grand challenges in biology — the major questions that lie at the heart of understanding life and living systems." Chris Greer, FIBR program officer.

Photo of honey bee.
FIBR researchers use honey bees to answer challenging biological questions.

Credit: National Human Genome Research Institute

“FIBR provides a mechanism to enable scientists to take on the grand challenges in biology – the major questions that lie at the heart of understanding life and living systems,” said Chris Greer, FIBR program officer. “To tackle these grand challenges, FIBR scientists are encouraged to integrate a broad range of disciplines using pioneering approaches and technology.”

Since the program’s inception in 2003, NSF has made 15 awards for five-year projects, potentially totaling more than $75 million.

Although FIBR projects are still in their infancy, the scientists are already gathering evidence to unravel “big” answers for biology. “It is very exciting to see scientists and researchers from so many different areas working together to answer these important questions,” Greer said. “Significant progress has been made on several projects. To our pleasant surprise, strong advances have also been made in unanticipated directions.”

To find out more about individual FIBR projects, click on the links in the left.


Frontiers in Integrative Biological Research A Special Report