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Capacity: Biological Collections

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NSF 23-580

Important information for proposers

All proposals must be submitted in accordance with the requirements specified in this funding opportunity and in the NSF Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide (PAPPG) that is in effect for the relevant due date to which the proposal is being submitted. It is the responsibility of the proposer to ensure that the proposal meets these requirements. Submitting a proposal prior to a specified deadline does not negate this requirement.

Supports improvements to and digitization of biological collections and collection-based information to advance biology and increase the broader applicability of collections.

Supports improvements to and digitization of biological collections and collection-based information to advance biology and increase the broader applicability of collections.


The Biological Collections Programmatic Area supports major improvements to or digitization of biological collections and collection-based information, enabling the advancement of biological understanding in important research areas, and increasing the broader applicability of collections.  Types of biological collections that are supported include established vouchered biological and paleontological collections, established living stocks and culture collections, and jointly-curated ancillary collections such as preserved tissues and libraries of genetic and genomic materials. Biological research collections provide critical research infrastructure for the biological sciences by allowing researchers to conduct a range of research including: documenting biodiversity and ecosystems, understanding species, evolution and organismal systems, quantifying environmental shifts, and providing knowledge for agricultural, biomedical, and manufacturing efforts. The scope of the proposed projects include either: improvements that secure existing biological collections (including ownership transfer), or thematic-based digitization projects that increase research potential and accessibility of biological collections-related data. Requests for improvements should demonstrate a clear and urgent need. Digitization requests must align with research priorities and should define, or partner with, a thematic network of collections that extends the value of the specimens for research.  Projects that are not supported in this programmatic area are establishment of new collections or living stocks, collecting activities, single-taxon natural history collections that are narrowly-focused, federally-owned collections, or digitization of literature sources, observation records, or other library items. Projects are expected to produce quality products, result in important science outcomes that will be achieved by the users of the resource, and have the potential to be used by a community of researchers beyond a single research team.

Proposed projects are expected to provide:

  • Evidence of the collection's importance to NSF BIO-funded research or biological conservation on a regional, national, or international scale.
  • A description of how the value of the collection will be enhanced by support from the Biological Collections programmatic area and how its contributions will further advance biological sciences.
  • Demonstration of an organizational commitment to adequate staffing and operating support that will result in long-term maintenance of the collection, associated data, and ancillary products.
  • Education and outreach contributions related to the collection's activities and demonstration of how the collection contributes to public understanding and appreciation of science and the diversity of life.

Improvements to biological collections

Established Vouchered Biological and Paleontological Collections. Requests will be considered to make improvements in established voucher collections for sustained, accurate, and efficient accessibility of the collection to the biological research community. Such improvements include, but are not limited to, securing and organizing specimens and related data, and increasing the accessibility of these data. Collections supported include those housing complete specimens of organisms, parts of organisms, or direct artifacts of organisms (e.g., recorded sounds and fossilized footprints) and ancillary data such as preserved tissues and/or other physical samples. Also eligible are collections that maintain ancillary material documenting the environmental context of the primary organism (e.g., soil and water samples, temperature and precipitation records, specimen-based geographic information, field notes). Only ancillary material that can be linked to vouchered specimens will be considered eligible.

Established Living Stocks and Culture Collections. Funding can be provided to secure and improve existing collections of living organisms (including viruses and bacteriophages) used in NSF BIO-funded basic biological research. Proposals will be considered that implement innovative handling of living stocks or demonstrate well-defined improvements in existing collections. Support for establishing new collections or collecting specimens is not allowable.

Requests are expected to describe activities that emphasize the security, maintenance, and provision of living organisms. Support for development of derivatives (e.g., genetic data) or other material relevant to the study of the sources may be provided but support for original research by collection staff on these derivatives or other materials should be sought from appropriate research programs at NSF, and at other public and private agencies. When appropriate, the collection should interface with relevant national efforts that provide an integrated framework for collections data.

Transfer of Ownership. Funding may be requested to move valuable established collections to a new institutional home or to consolidate collections. Requests for moving or consolidating must include an explicit plan for the activity. Proposals may target either Living Stocks or Vouchered Biological or Paleontological Collections. Proposals may include opportunities to salvage a significant collection that otherwise would be lost, or to preserve collections that facilitate critical knowledge discovery or that enable substantial growth in a scientific discipline. Authorization of ownership transfer and moving estimates should be documented (see Infrastructure Capacity for Biology solicitation; Authorities and Cost Basis) as Supplementary Documents.

Thematic-based Digitization of Biological Collections. Proposed digitization projects are expected to enhance the national resource of digital data documenting existing vouchered biological and paleontological collections. Proposals are encouraged that establish or extend research-ready networks where existing specimens and digital media connect to associated data, including genetic, phenotypic, behavioral, or environmental data that comprise an extended Thematic Collection Network (TCN) or as a Partner to an Existing Network (PEN). A TCN should conform to the concepts of an "Extended Specimen Network" described by the NSF funded BCON Research Coordination Network. These concepts convey a "perspective of the biodiversity specimen as extending beyond the singular physical object, to potentially limitless additional physical preparations and digital resources." At the same time, digitization efforts should remain focused on a research theme and the physical specimens owned by the collections involved. Paleontological collections are included and may be integrated with biological collections if relevant to a research theme or may be digitized around a biological research theme unique to the past. Awardees are expected to be engaged in collaboration with national and international scale partners (e.g., iDigBio) for training activities, outreach, and the development of appropriate technology and standards to produce an interoperable network.

Proposals should present innovative plans, strong collaborations among large and small institutions, and mechanisms to build upon existing digitization projects. Proposals that increase efficiency and breadth are a priority. Collaboration with federally held collections is encouraged, but digitization of federal collections cannot be supported with NSF funds. However, specimens owned by federal institutions may be pertinent for a research theme. In those cases, plans for integration of the existing data from all specimens should be articulated (for example, by including representatives from the federal collection as meeting participants, sharing workflows and file formats, etc.).

Thematic Collection Networks (TCNs). Proposals should describe two- to four-year projects to digitize existing specimens based on a research-ready theme. Specimens to be digitized should be of critical importance to the research theme and the criteria for the specimen assessment should be indicated in the proposal. Shared infrastructure among the collections involved should be identified along with deliverables that support the research-ready theme of the project. Proposals should define metrics for assessment, identify specific needs for community involvement, and demonstrate links to other collections related to the digitization effort. Priority is given to projects that approach digitization in innovative ways, through integration of data, methodology and techniques that are cost effective, and drive down the financial and personnel costs of digitization of specimens and/or speed up the process of digitization.

Partnerships to Existing Networks (PENs). Proposals that partner with and extend the efforts of ongoing NSF-funded TCNs are encouraged. New partners must increase the number of specimens digitized in the ongoing project and fill gaps not addressed by the specimens in an existing TCN. Any TCN which is either in progress on its NSF award or which has established itself as a sustainable entity (i.e. part of professional society activities, part of regional collaborations at the universities, or supported by funding other than NSF) is eligible for including new partners. It is expected that PEN proposals will work with the TCN to develop a budget that is compatible with these collaborative projects. The PEN proposals should adequately indicate how the partner collection will add information to the ongoing project, fill in gaps in digitized data and increase value to the efforts for the research theme. The broader impacts should be specific for the PEN institution, but also indicate how these impacts enhance the TCN. To indicate that the PEN will appropriately integrate with the existing TCN, a letter of collaboration (format found under the instructions for Supplemental Documents, below) from the lead of the existing TCN should be uploaded in the Supplemental Documents section. It is expected that PEN proposals will use some of the infrastructure of the existing network, thus providing an efficient means to further the impact of the existing network. The length of a PEN proposal should be adequate to describe the activity and the integration into the existing network; a full 15 pages may not be necessary for these types of proposals.

Program contacts

Reed S. Beaman
rsbeaman@nsf.gov (703) 292-7163 BIO/DBI

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