Bilateral agreement supports new biological research awards


International cooperation is increasingly critical to answering major questions in science, researchers have found.

Now 14 new projects supported jointly by the US National Science Foundation (NSF) Directorate for Biological Sciences and the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) will enable innovative collaborations in biology.

Theresa Good, deputy director of NSF’s Division of Molecular and Cellular Biology in the Directorate for Biological Sciences said:

As the world becomes more interconnected, so must our research.

The international collaboration exemplified by these awards will lead to an enhanced ability to understand biological principles and mechanisms, and to discoveries in fields from agriculture to manufacturing.

The projects will:

  • generate new data
  • enhance theories on the relationships between organisms and their environments
  • advance state-of-the-art methods to understand and harness life’s innovations.

The awards represent an investment of more than $8.7 million and £6.5 million by the two agencies under an agreement through which NSF and BBSRC have invested more than $36 million and £24 million respectively in 52 projects since 2014.

Amanda Collis, BBSRC executive director of Research Strategy and Programmes said:

BBSRC and NSF’s Directorate for Biological Sciences have a long history of partnering to enable transatlantic collaboration between UK and US scientists. 

These latest awards will result in new tools, approaches and knowledge to push back the frontiers of discovery and keep both countries at the forefront of bioscience research globally.

Supported projects

Projects supported include research to develop software and protocols to compare genetic information among rice strains. This “future-proofing” of genomic resources will enhance scientists’ understanding of a crop that provides the major daily caloric needs for 50% of the world’s people, accelerating the search for desirable traits such as resistance to periodic droughts and flooding.

To impact agriculture more broadly and assist with conservation, other researchers will examine the evolutionary histories of plants and microbes and how they have responded to drought. The biologists will use techniques such as DNA sequencing and CT-scanning of roots to determine the effects of soil microbiomes on plant health.

Other research will focus on synthetic biology. One project will use sphingolipids, components of the protective membranes around animal and bacteria cells, to make self-contained vesicles like tiny soap bubbles. This first step in developing realistic synthetic cells that can be programmed could lead to new healthcare technologies and new ways of replacing environmentally damaging and unsustainable chemical manufacturing methods.

Also using synthetic biology tools, another project aims to understand how cells control their shape and movement, essential to the development and function of multicellular organisms. Researchers will define how the rules of protein-protein interactions affect cell biology by building synthetic proteins whose patterns of interaction can be “built to order.”

Further information

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