Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: UK-US research: ecology and evolution of infectious diseases 2021

Apply to research the transmission dynamics of infectious diseases.

To apply, you must be from a UK-based research organisation eligible for BBSRC funding.

Your team must be interdisciplinary.

You must collaborate with a US partner. You can also collaborate with partners from China or Israel.

You can research:

  • diseases of animals, humans and plants
  • ecological, evolutionary and socio-ecological factors.

We are particularly interested in:

  • plant health
  • coronaviruses
  • other zoonotic pathogens.

UKRI will fund 80% of the full economic cost of the UK component.

We will fund successful projects for up to five years.

Who can apply

The collaborative projects must include a US principal investigator who will lead the submission through the NSF process.

The UK principal investigator’s institution will be responsible for receiving and distributing UKRI funding to UK institutions.

We will consider applications for both research projects and research coordination networks (RCNs) that involve researchers from the UK and US, China or Israel.

RCNs are a type of NSF project. They advance a field or create new directions in research or education by supporting groups of investigators. The networks help investigators communicate and coordinate their research, training and educational activities. They work across disciplinary, organisational, geographic and international boundaries.

Applicants for the UK component must meet the standard BBSRC eligibility rules and be based at one of these:

  • higher education institution
  • research council institute
  • UKRI-approved independent research organisation (IRO)
  • eligible public sector research establishment (PSRE).

Check the lists of:

To understand all eligibility rules affecting you, please read our research grants guide.

Your research team must be transdisciplinary. It is strongly recommended that proposals demonstrate good integration of mathematical, computational and social scientists with life scientists interested in infectious diseases of humans, animals and plants.

For example:

  • biologists
  • ecologists
  • natural scientists
  • plant scientists
  • clinicians
  • veterinarians.

What we're looking for

The funders wish to encourage high quality, innovative research on the ecological, evolutionary, and social drivers that influence the transmission dynamics of infectious diseases.

We will fund research in:

  • animals
  • humans
  • plants.

The central theme of submitted projects must be the quantitative or computational understanding of pathogen transmission dynamics.

BBSRC and MRC are also keen to encourage proposals with a focus on:

  • plant health
  • coronaviruses
  • other zoonotic pathogens.

Among the areas of particular interest for this funding opportunity are:

  • the role of social influences on the susceptibility of individuals or populations
  • multiway interactions between pathogenic and non-pathogenic organisms and their mutual hosts
  • the role of medical, agricultural or environmental practices on pathogen emergence and transmission
  • emergence of pathogens from non-pathogenic populations
  • host switching
  • evolutionary dynamics in an ecological context such as disease control interventions and drug resistance
  • animal and human coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV-2
  • plant health.

UKRI expects to fund two to four projects.

You must read the full information on the scope of the opportunity and how to apply on the NSF website.

How to apply

Step one: contact the UK programme officer

UK applicants should contact the main UK programme officer at BBSRC to:

  • discuss whether their proposal fits the scope of the opportunity
  • confirm that the UK component is appropriate.

Step two: US principal investigator applies through NSF

Applications must be submitted via the NSF.

Your US principal investigator will manage this process.

View the application preparation and submission instructions on the NSF website.

Step three: create Je-S application but do not submit

Do not submit the form on the system. You will instead email it in step four.

Enter costing for the UK component of the project on the Joint Electronic Submission system (Je-S).

When applying select:

  • council: BBSRC
  • document type: standard proposal
  • scheme: small grants
  • call/type/mode: UK Partner Funding.

Assign a UK lead investigator (for example, a principal investigator) to lead the UK part of the application. Enter their name in Je-S as the UK principal investigator. You can also include co-investigators on your application.

In the document menu there’s an area called ‘document data’. You must complete everything in this section, with only two exceptions:

  • case for support
  • classifications.

If the system will not let you proceed then attach a blank file for those two areas.

Provide CVs for investigators and researchers as PDFs, following the NSF guidance in section F biographical sketches of the proposal preparation instructions.

Step four: send the documents to us

  1. Download the completed Je-S proforma and CVs:
    • open the ‘document actions’ dropdown
    • select ‘print document’
    • tick ‘include blank section’
    • select ‘download the print’
    • select ‘Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF)’
    • save the files on your computer.
  2. Forward the files to the US principal investigator for inclusion as a supplementary document in the overall proposal.

Email electronic copies of the documents to BBSRC by 24 November 2021 17:00:

How we will assess your application

The UK and US components of the collaborative projects will be assessed through the NSF peer review process.

Successful projects will be funded by BBSRC on behalf of MRC.

Find out more about the assessment process on the NSF website.

Contact details

Ask about the UK part of this funding opportunity

Elizabeth Treadwell, UK Programme Officer, BBSRC


Ask about the US part of this funding opportunity

Samuel Scheiner, Program Director, DEB/NSF


Tel: 001 (703) 292 7175

Additional info

Background on disease emergence and transmission

The last 25 years have seen a dramatic increase in our awareness of the need to understand the ecological and evolutionary drivers of disease emergence and transmission dynamics.

This has been particularly evident in the recent COVID-19 global pandemic.

While knowledge has increased about specific systems and the basic principles of simple systems, understanding of complex systems and translation of those principles into ecosystem, public health, and agricultural health management tools remains challenging.

The emergence and the re-emergence of numerous infectious diseases around the world have coincided with unprecedented rates of change in the structure and diversity of the environment and human social and economic systems.

Nearly all the world’s terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems have undergone dramatic changes due to a variety of human activities.

The coincidence of broad scale environmental changes, the expansion of human social and economic networks and the emergence and re-emergence of infectious diseases alludes to underlying predictable ecological and eco-evolutionary relationships.

The ability to define molecular identity and dynamics of pathogens, and apply genetic knowledge to understand evolutionary dynamics of infectious diseases, have improved and significantly contributed to our knowledge of the epidemiology and transmission patterns of diseases.

Currently, basic and applied research of infectious disease ecology and evolution are not well integrated.

The potential benefits of an integrated interdisciplinary research programme in this area include:

  • development of disease transmission theory
  • improved understanding of how diseases emerge or re-emerge
  • improved understanding of host population and ecosystem effects on disease transmission
  • increased capacity to forecast and respond to outbreaks
  • improved understanding of unintended health effects of development projects affecting terrestrial, freshwater, and coastal marine systems
  • enhanced safety of food supplies
  • improved strategies to control or prevent infectious diseases and enhance biosecurity.

About this programme and funding opportunity

By bringing together interdisciplinary teams of life scientists, mathematicians and social scientists, this programme will result in the development of cross-cutting models and concepts that can aid in the prediction, prevention and response to emerging diseases.

This may include:

  • generation of principles and conceptual frameworks that organise and inform the research leading to mathematical, computational and statistical models of infectious disease dynamics
  • generation of rigorously characterised and tested models that are of value to the scientific community and wider decision making
  • deepening of our understanding of complex infectious disease systems, including these drivers of transmission:
    • biological
    • environmental
    • social
  • elucidation of general ecological and evolutionary principles with applications across multiple pathogens
  • better understanding of how infectious agents:
    • emerge as pathogens
    • adapt to hosts
    • interact with other microbial communities (such as microbiomes)
    • are transmitted between hosts.

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