Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: Molecules to landscapes: building interdisciplinary capabilities

Apply for funding to improve capability across molecular, data, agricultural and environmental sciences.

You must be based at an organisation eligible for UKRI funding.

Your application should outline innovative activities that:

  • build collaborations that lead to the creation of interdisciplinary research communities
  • has the capacity to impact a challenge with ‘real world’ implications.

Proposals must include at least two co-principal investigators from different and relevant disciplines.

The full economic cost of your project can be up to £200,000. BBSRC and NERC will fund 80% of the full economic cost.

Projects can run up to 12 months.

Who can apply

Standard eligibility criteria apply to this opportunity. Applicants from eligible UK-based organisations are invited, in accordance with standard UKRI practice.

Who can apply for funding

Institutions and researchers normally eligible for UKRI funding include:

  • higher education institutions
  • eligible independent research organisations (IROs)
  • public sector research establishments
  • UKRI funded labs and facilities.

Applications from organisations or individuals that are not eligible will be rejected without reference to panel review.

We encourage:

  • new collaborations and partnerships, including across disciplines and sectors
  • the involvement of private sector partners
  • partnerships with international research groups, where they add value to the project through access to key facilities or in-kind contributions.

Businesses cannot be funded through this opportunity.

Funding will only be provided to UK eligible organisations, but international researchers can be named as project partners.

Principal investigators and co-investigators

This funding opportunity requires a creative and interdisciplinary approach. Therefore, we expect the leadership of all proposals to demonstrate a breadth of high-quality expertise spanning at least two separate research disciplines, different and relevant to the opportunity.

We encourage applications from individuals with diverse backgrounds and experiences, either as principal investigator or co-investigator.

For this opportunity specifically, an individual may apply only once as a principal investigator or once as a co-investigator.

What we're looking for

This funding opportunity aims to foster collaborations and build capability across the BBSRC and NERC interface. It aims to achieve this through interdisciplinary projects that bring together a range of disciplines, including:

  • environmental engineering
  • ecology
  • agri-systems
  • molecular biology
  • data science.

As a minimum requirement, all proposals are expected to have at least two principal investigators from different and relevant disciplines.

BBSRC and NERC are keen to encourage:

  • research groups that blend the required talent and expertise
  • a cultural diversity of stakeholders and researchers with novel, non-traditional perspectives
  • applications that tackle research challenges with real world implications.

You should ensure the outputs of your projects will contribute to the:

  • development of an integrated system-wide approach
  • identification of innovative solutions that will inform and develop future agroecological practices.

These agroecological practices must reduce the impact of agriculture on the terrestrial, freshwater, atmospheric or marine environments and their diverse flora and fauna.

Your application can include:

  • activities to build capability, including workshops that bring together different disciplinary and user perspectives
  • small scale exploratory or scoping projects
  • evidence syntheses
  • plans to integrate and share datasets from different disciplines
  • knowledge exchange activities.

However, you are not limited to the above and we would encourage creativity. You should always ensure that your application addresses a specific challenge with real-world implications.

What we wish to support

BBSRC and NERC wish to support applications that achieve the following objectives:

Build upon and be informed by previous investment

Investment can have been provided by BBSRC, NERC or other research funders. Research areas include:

  • molecular sciences
  • data sciences
  • agricultural sciences
  • environmental sciences.

Identify ambitious ‘real world’ challenges

‘Real world’ challenges should be within UK agricultural landscapes and where new interdisciplinary expertise could contribute to and propose agendas for future research.

Realise and define new research and innovative solutions for agriculture

Through your research and the interdisciplinary connections made, new agriculture research and innovative solutions might be realised and defined. Your aim should be to provide an enhanced understanding and knowledge of molecular changes that can be scaled up and implemented.

Build capability, increase capacity and create communities

These should have the potential to contribute to future funding opportunities, enabling longer-term, larger scale projects.

Develop the foundations of a research base

In the longer term, this research base will aim to input into UK policy. It will also aim to support evidence-based work to inform strategy, regulation and skills needs.

Initiate the development of new interdisciplinary expertise

In the future, this expertise should look to support knowledge exchange, translation, and commercialisation as necessary to facilitate impact.

Example research areas

Some example research areas are provided below to help you develop your ideas. These examples should not lead or limit the scope and ambition of planned applications.

Engineering biology solutions

There is potential to explore how biodiversity enhancement, pollution reduction or nutritional improvements could be built in through engineering biology solutions.

For example, you could look at developing ecological communities that have appropriate surface and subsurface physical and biological characteristics that promote or improve:

  • agricultural production
  • resilient and functional biodiversity
  • soil health
  • nutrient balance
  • water quality.

Biosystems sensors

You could develop or apply technologies that can rapidly detect, characterise and communicate changing biodiversity, nutrient levels or other relevant agrimetrics.

These should be capable of serving as persistent, integrated and highly sensitive sensor technologies. This is in order to identify vulnerabilities of otherwise resilient agri-ecosystems.

These approaches should have the potential to identify agri-ecosystem threats early and long before traditional observational sampling.

Measuring the flow of materials through the environment

There is a need for ecologically sustainable approaches that can track the location of applied pesticides, fertilisers or other synthetic chemicals through the agricultural systems in which they are applied and the wider environment in real time.

This could:

  • reduce environmental pollution
  • maximise the efficiency of the applied chemicals
  • lead to improved application strategies.

For example, you may look at how wireless sensor nodes of micrometre size could monitor the way in which chemicals move through and persist in the environment.

This would be followed by recording the impact of spatially precise environmental conditions, such as temperature, other chemical conditions, humidity, and wind, on the transport of such chemicals.

This would inform an understanding of the agri-environmental interactions (for example, within soils) that could also inform the development of effective interventions.

New tools, technologies and methods to appraise the ecology and biodiversity of agricultural land

There is potential to consider future genetic and DNA tracing technologies and their ability to rapidly appraise the ecology of agricultural land holdings. These technologies offer the potential to provide more holistic and detailed information than species-focused ecological surveys.

Such technologies in the future could potentially detect all species in a specific area and would significantly change approaches to environmental policy, agroecological practice and decision-making.

In addition, there is growing demand for technical applicability in developing and deploying molecular biology and network theory. This is in order to uncover biodiversity patterns by integrating biodiversity assessments over space to capture catchment scale diversity.

For example, integrating sediment geochemistry with plant, animal and microbial DNA metabarcoding to capture the DNA of catchments.

Data-intensive research

You could explore the impact of changes made across the scales at a landscape scale, which may be understood by the development and innovation of new approaches through:

  • software
  • tools and algorithms
  • the application of existing approaches from other disciplines.

These data-intensive methods could enable computational dependent analysis, data integration and modelling. This could provide the capability to process the volume and complexity of research data arising from new transformative technologies.

Funding available

Applications can be up to 12 months in duration and should not exceed £200,000 (100% full economic costing). UKRI will contribute 80% full economic costing (up to £160,000).

The funders anticipate funding five to 10 projects.

Applications must have a start date no later than June 2022 and cannot be delayed beyond this date for any reason.

Awarded grants will not receive extensions aside from exceptional circumstances, which fall under the Equality Act 2010.

How to apply

You should prepare and submit your proposal using the research council’s Joint Electronic Submission (Je-S) system by 16:00 on 24 March 2022.

When adding a new proposal, you should go to documents, select ‘new document’, then select:

  • council: BBSRC
  • document type: standard proposal
  • scheme: rapid response
  • call/type/mode: molecules to landscapes.

You must select the molecules to landscapes opportunity to ensure that your proposal is submitted to the correct funding opportunity. Proposals submitted to the standard rapid response scheme will not be accepted.

What to include

As well as the Je-S application form, the following documents must be submitted:

  • case for support (maximum four pages)
  • justification for resources (maximum one page)
  • capability to deliver (maximum two pages, submit as ‘other attachment’)
  • letter of support for any project partners (no maximum pages).

Case for support

Your case for support should outline the following:

  • the scientific case and strategic value of your project
  • the timeliness and potential impact of the project
  • the specific challenge that is being addressed
  • an overview of how your proposed activities will progress towards solving the challenge
  • a work plan, if desired.

If you have an industrial partner, your case for support should also detail:

  • the role of your industrial partner
  • the nature of their collaboration.

Note that industrial partners are not mandatory.

Justification of resources

Your justification of resources should include details of all resources being requested in your application. You should explain why they are necessary to your project.

Capability to deliver

The capability to deliver replaces the need to provide CVs of all applicants and research staff. You should outline:

  • the benefits of the assembled interdisciplinary research team
  • how this team is suited to undertaking the activities proposed.

Project partners

If project partners are included in your proposal, you should also provide a project partner letter of support. This is required for industrial and international partners who are not seeking funding from this opportunity.

Co-principal investigators

The Je-S system only allows one principal investigator to be named, therefore the co-principal investigator roles must be clearly identified within your application.

The principal investigator named on the Je-S form will, for administrative purposes, be the initial point of contact for liaison with UKRI during the lifetime of the award.

For further guidance, see the BBSRC research grants guide.

How we will assess your application

Fast-track assessment

If your application fits the remit of the opportunity, it will be assessed through a single stage, fast-track assessment process. This will be undertaken by a multidisciplinary panel with expertise appropriate to the opportunity.

Applications will not be sent to reviewers. Therefore, you will not receive reviewer comments. There will also be no principal investigator rebuttal stage.

Your application will be assessed against the criteria for assessment as outlined below. The expert panel will create a recommended rank-ordered list of applications based on the assessments. This will be provided to the funders.

Your case for support should include sufficient details, approaches and methods for your proposed project. This is so that it can be assessed by scientists with relevant, but not necessarily specialist expertise.

Applicants should expect to be informed during April of the outcome of funding decisions.

Assessment criteria

The panel will assess proposals against the following criteria.

Scientific and technical excellence

  • specific objectives of the project and whether they demonstrate excellence and originality
  • the appropriateness of the proposed activities
  • the scientific merit of the project
  • the project’s potential to make a significant contribution to advancement of the area.

Strategic value

Your project will be assessed for how well it:

  • fits the scope of the opportunity
  • is relevant to either or both of the BBSRC and NERC strategies.

Timeliness and potential impact

  • potential scale of impact
  • applicability to possible end user applications
  • potential to build a foundation for further investment.

Capability to deliver

  • the capabilities and sustainability of the assembled research teams to deliver the proposed research and other activities.

Contact details

Get help with developing your proposal

For help and advice on costings and writing your proposal, please contact your research office in the first instance, allowing sufficient time for your organisation’s submission process.

Ask about this funding opportunity

Luke Williams

Senior Portfolio Manager, Sustainable Agriculture and Food
Email: luke.williams@bbsrc.ukri.org

Rachael Foy

Senior Programme Manager, Interdisciplinary Programme Design and Management Team
Email: rachael.foy@nerc.ukri.org

Get help with applying through Je-S

Email

jeshelp@je-s.ukri.org

Telephone

01793 444164

Opening times

Je-S helpdesk opening times

Additional info

Further background to the programme

There is a need to produce substantially more food over the next few decades to meet increasing demand, but agriculture has a significant impact upon the environment, both locally and globally.

This includes:

  • carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus input costs and emissions
  • synthetic chemicals persisting or being washed out of farms into rivers and other watercourses
  • use of antibiotics and other antimicrobials leading to resistance and biodiversity loss.

Agriculture and the wider agricultural system is equally important in solving these issues. Novel agroecological practices are needed to make the best use of available resources such as land, but also of ecological resources such as biodiversity and nutrients.

Agriculture can be environmentally beneficial whilst also being highly productive. However, further research is needed to identify which practices are most beneficial and at which scales. What may work in a particular field may be harmful at farm or landscape scale, particularly when considering a farm as part of a wider landscape.

The intention is to progress towards an agricultural system which is a net provider of both agricultural and ecological services.

Significant previous investment has considered these issues from a variety of perspectives, often ecological or agronomic, yet there is much to be gained from a holistic and balanced approach, and in particular, a systems-based approach.

Techniques and methods from one discipline can be brought to bear in another. Diverse teams from different research disciplines can unleash new possibilities, and end-users including farmers and other land managers can provide their input into the applicability of the solutions found.

It is only with the combination of skills, knowledge and expertise can effective and useful outcomes can be implemented.

Even within systems approaches, there can be foci, and in this funding opportunity, the focus is on integrating data sciences with molecular, ecological and agricultural perspectives.

Bioinformatics and data science can empower the molecular solutions for the ecological problems within an agricultural or farming context. Through the projects funded through this funding opportunity, it is anticipated that a better understanding will be obtained of the underpinning processes that drive biodiversity loss, greenhouse gas emissions and nutrient cycling as a result of agricultural land use and practices.

This will be assisted by the development and application of relevant biosensors, tools and technologies that provide necessary data. It will also be assisted by insight into improved agroecological practices, which can be developed and used at landscape scale.

Once a better understanding is obtained of these areas, then it will be possible to discover methods which reverse these processes. This can lead to:

  • biodiverse agriculture
  • more efficient production
  • more informed decision making for farmers and other land managers.

Projects funded through this funding opportunity will pump-prime future scale-up research funding within this area. BBSRC and NERC will work with project teams to help refine routes forward with respect to further investment opportunities.

In this funding opportunity, however, the intention is to stimulate and coordinate an integrative research community that is well placed to bring novel approaches to meet the challenges within this area.

There is significant scope for applicants to propose different integrative ideas and approaches, which are driven by a range of agri-environmental challenges. There is also scope to contribute to the development of a critical mass of novel thinking and approaches at the bioscience-environmental science interface.

Webinar

Please join us at one of two short webinars where you will be able to learn more about this opportunity, and have the ability to ask any questions that you may have. If you are not able to make either, a recording will be available, and a list of questions and answers will also be available.

The webinars have now been held.

Watch a recording of the webinar on YouTube.

Webinar presentation slides (PDF, 2.1MB)

Questions asked at the webinar (PDF, 180KB)

Workshop

The workshop has now been held.

Watch a recording of the workshop on YouTube.

Please note that the breakout sessions of the workshop were not recorded.

Notes of the outputs of the workshop (PDF, 166KB)

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