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.

Dear Colleague Letter

UKRI/BBSRC - NSF/BIO Lead Agency Opportunity in Biological informatics, Microbes and the Host Immune System, Quantum Biology, and Synthetic Cell

Invites U.S.–U.K. collaborative research proposals in the following priority areas: biological informatics, microbes and the host immune system, quantum biology, and synthetic cells.

Invites U.S.–U.K. collaborative research proposals in the following priority areas: biological informatics, microbes and the host immune system, quantum biology, and synthetic cells.

Dear Colleagues:


The US National Science Foundation (NSF) and the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Research Cooperation. The MOU provides an overarching framework to encourage collaboration between US and UK research communities and sets out the principles by which jointly supported activities might be developed. The MOU provides for a lead agency arrangement whereby proposals may be submitted to either NSF (via or or UKRI (via Je-S).

Through this Dear Colleague Letter (DCL), the NSF Directorate for Biological Sciences (NSF/BIO) and the UKRI Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) are pleased to announce 2021/2022 topical areas associated with this lead agency opportunity. The lead agency opportunity allows for reciprocal acceptance of peer review through unsolicited mechanisms; its goal is to help reduce some of the current barriers to working internationally.


The lead agency opportunity allows US and UK researchers to submit a single collaborative proposal that will undergo a single review process by the lead agency, on behalf of both NSF/BIO and UKRI/BBSRC. In 2021/2022 proposals will be accepted for UK-US collaborative projects in the areas of intersection between NSF/BIO and UKRI/BBSRC as set out in the notice of intentions.

Proposals must address the priorities of both UKRI/BBSRC and participating NSF/BIO Divisions. Proposers must provide a clear rationale for the need for a US-UK collaboration, including the unique expertise and synergy that the collaborating groups will bring to the project. Proposers should note that the lead agency opportunity does not represent new funding. Proposals will be assessed in competition with all others submitted to the priority areas and agency programs identified in this DCL, and outcomes will be subject to both success in merit review and the availability of funds from both UKRI/BBSRC and NSF/BIO.

Proposals relevant to the following priority areas and agency programs are eligible to apply for the lead agency opportunity in 2021/2022.


Proposals are invited that address the development of novel informatics approaches and cyberinfrastructure resources to enable novel and effective use of data in biological research, addressing key challenges faced by researchers and supporting generation of new knowledge from biological data. Proposals must be aligned to BOTH NSF's Division of Biological Infrastructure programs in informatics and cyberinfrastructure AND UKRI/BBSRC's Data Driven Biology Responsive Mode priority. In addition, Principal Investigators (PIs) are advised to consult the appropriate program officer to ensure that their portion of the project is compliant with the targeted program.

Proposals should be submitted to:


Proposals are invited that take an integrated approach to answer important questions relating to the immune system and host-microbe interactions. Microbes impact their hosts in manners that result in greatly different outcomes, which can include symbiotic, mutualistic or pathogenic infection. Key to these outcomes is the response and resilience of the host innate and adaptive immune system, as well as the microbial players (bacterial, fungal, viral) and the underlying physiological context. Relevant areas of investigation include systems using genetically-similar hosts or microbes that result in different phenotypic outcomes of infection. The use of comparative cross-species approaches to develop insights that have broad relevance across biological organisms is encouraged, as is research to understand the influence of co-infection and the wider microbiome and the influence of host physiology through the life course. Proposals should aim to identify molecular mechanisms or develop systems-level understanding. Proposals that focus on industrial applications will not be accepted. Proposals that focus solely on human or mouse immune systems will not be accepted. Proposals must aim to progress knowledge of immunology in non-human animals or plants.

Proposals should be submitted to:


Proposals are invited that seek to investigate the biological molecules and biomolecular systems that give rise to quantum mechanical effects in living organisms. Studies have shown that such phenomena are important to a number of fundamental biological processes, including photosynthesis, olfaction, cellular respiration, and vision, yet the specialized features that enable such effects are not well understood. Relevant areas of investigation include the features of proteins that enable quantum effects to occur at physiological temperatures and the significance of the relatively large size of most protein complexes that exhibit quantum phenomena in contributing to the superposition of quantum states that give rise to quantum entanglement or quantum coherence. Mechanistic insight into the extended coherence times observed in biological systems is also of interest. In addition to biophysical mechanisms, proposals that aim to provide insights into the prevalence of quantum phenomena in biological systems across the tree of life and their evolutionary origins are also welcome. Proposals must aim to progress biological understanding and are expected to integrate research and methodologies from both (bio)physics and biology.

Proposals should be submitted to:


Can we design, build and control a synthetic cell? Realizing this grand challenge will enable us to uncover the molecular and physical organization of cells that enable storage and transmittal of information, capture and transformation of energy, and adaptation and regulation of cellular systems that make life possible. Natural cells emerge from the coordinated operation of a large number of biomolecules with their environment. One goal of synthetic cell research is to decipher the basic requirements of a living cell by understanding the myriad functions that make it resilient and adaptive. To this end, proposals are expected to focus on building a synthetic cell in order to understand biology. For example, the identification of genes, metabolic pathways and cellular components and the molecular mechanism by which they exert their function can inform and accelerate the design and building of synthetic cells. Such cells might be protocells containing only the most basic cellular components that allows an understanding of the origin of life, artificial cells that contain both natural and synthetic cellular components or minimal cells that use natural molecules to build self-replicating cellular entities through 'bottom up' approaches. Proposals focused exclusively on building a synthetic cell as a biomanufacturing platform or as a therapeutic moiety will not be accepted.

Proposals should be submitted to:


There is a 2-stage application process (see timeline below).

Stage 1: Intention to Submit

  1. Prior to submission of a full proposal, proposers will discuss within their research team where they feel the largest proportion of research lies (typically, this means largest budget request) and agree on a proposed lead agency (either NSF/BIO or UKRI/BBSRC). Where advice is required about lead agency or fit of the proposal to the written notice of intentions, the proposer should contact the relevant staff member at the proposed lead funding agency to discuss the research project. The staff member will then confirm that they will act as lead funding agency (and subsequently inform the other participating agency) or will consult with the other agency to identify a new lead funding agency prior to returning a decision to the proposer (generally within 10 working days).
  2. Proposers will then be required to submit a PDF Intention to Submit (ITS) by email to the proposed lead agency that outlines the research proposed, research teams involved, and bottom-line estimates of funding to be requested from the NSF/BIO and UKRI/BBSRC. For NSF, bottom line estimates should include both direct and indirect costs. The ITS should not exceed 2 pages.
    1. Where UKRI/BBSRC is the proposed lead agency, the ITS should be submitted via the Je-S system (see further guidance on UKRI/BBSRC website).
    2. Where NSF/BIO is the proposed lead agency, the ITS should be submitted via email to The ITS must identify the participating program to which the ITS is directed.
  3. The ITS will be shared with the non-lead agency to check for eligibility (namely whether the proposed research fits within the participating agencies' portfolio, the scope of the notice of intentions and whether the proposed researchers and institutions meet the agencies' funding eligibility requirements). The ITS will also be used to gauge proposal pressure by program and assist programs with budget planning.

Stage 2: Full Proposals

  1. If the ITS presents an eligible research project based on the eligibility description above, the subsequent full proposal must be submitted in accordance with the proposal preparation requirements of the lead agency, i.e., for NSF/BIO, the NSF Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide (PAPPG) and for UKRI/BBSRC, the BBSRC Grants Guide.
  2. The proposal should include a description of the full proposed research program and research team and describe the total resources for the joint project (that is, the funds requested from both the NSF/BIO and UKRI/BBSRC). However, the budget forms submitted to the lead agency should only indicate the amount requested from that agency. A copy of the proposed requested budget of the non-lead agency should be included as part of the full proposal (in the case of NSF, this should be added as a "Supplementary Document"; in the case of UKRI/BBSRC, this should be added as an attached document to the grant application).
  3. For proposals submitted to NSF, UK personnel should be listed as "unfunded Collaborators". Guidance on information to provide for "unfunded Collaborators" is below.
    • Biographical Sketch - Required. The biographical information must be clearly identified as "unfunded Collaborators" biographical information and uploaded as a single PDF file in the Other Supplementary Documents section of the proposal. Use of a specific format is not required.
    • Collaborators and Other Affiliations (COA) Information - Optional but requested. The COA information should be provided through the use of the COA template, identified as "unfunded Collaborators" COA information and uploaded as a PDF file in the Single Copy Documents section of the proposal.
    • Current and Pending Support - Not required.
    • Results of Prior Research - Not required.
  4. For projects involving human subjects/participants or animals, proposers will be advised about both NSF/BIO and UKRI/BBSRC policies and will be advised to consult with appropriate staff at NSF/BIO or UKRI/BBSRC prior to submitting a proposal.
  5. The proposal should indicate the proposal is to be considered under this lead agency opportunity by prefacing the title with 'UKRI/BBSRC-NSF/BIO'.
  6. The proposal will be submitted by established program deadlines or target dates determined by the lead agency. For NSF/BIO, proposals may be submitted at any time after the ITS is deemed eligible but must be submitted within 6 months of the ITS to be considered for funding during the FY22 fiscal year.


  1. Proposals will be reviewed in competition with other unsolicited proposals or with proposals received in response to a specific call by the lead funding agency (that is, proposals submitted to the lead agency opportunity will not undergo a special review process).
  2. Proposals will be reviewed in accordance with the lead agency's review criteria. While not identical, the NSF/BIO and UKRI/BBSRC ask reviewers to evaluate the proposed project on both its scientific or intellectual merit as well as its broader or societal impacts. A description of the NSF merit review process is provided on the NSF merit review website at: A description of the UKRI/BBSRC assessment process is provided on the UKRI/BBSRC website at:


  1. After the reviews are received, program directors from the lead and non-lead agencies will discuss the potential outcomes. Afterwards, the lead agency will use its usual internal procedures to determine whether a proposal will be awarded or declined. In the case of NSF, an award requires a formal recommendation by the Program Officer and then concurrence by the cognizant Division Director. NSF's Division of Grants and Agreements will review the proposal from a business and financial perspective. NSF funding decisions are subject to the availability of funds. Only the NSF Grants Officer can make commitments on behalf of the Foundation or authorize the expenditure of funds. In the case of the UKRI/BBSRC, funding recommendations from Panels are received by Research Council Officers who, taking into account the availability of funds, will fund those proposals recommended for funding in the order identified by the Panel.
  2. Proposers will be advised whether their proposal has been recommended for funding or will be declined by the lead funding agency. Proposers will receive copies of the unattributed reviewers' comments and, where applicable, a panel summary.
  3. Once a proposer has been notified of a pending award, the non-lead researcher(s) associated with the project must submit a copy of the proposal to the non-lead agency so that each agency has complete documentation of the overall proposed research project.
  4. If a proposal is recommended for funding, the US organization(s) will be supported by NSF/BIO and the UK organization(s) will be supported by UKRI/BBSRC. NSF/BIO and UKRI/BBSRC staff will review budgets to ensure that there are no duplications in funding.
  5. Because the participating organizations have different funding cycles, it is possible that some projects will have delayed start dates in order to wait until funds become available.


  1. NSF/BIO and UKRI/BBSRC will clearly state in award notices and any related documents that awards resulting from this activity were made possible by the NSF/BIO-UKRI/BBSRC lead agency opportunity.
  2. Awardees will be expected to comply with the award conditions and reporting requirements of the agencies from which they receive funding.
  3. Researchers will be required to acknowledge both NSF and UKRI/BBSRC in any reports or publications arising from the grant.
  4. Requests for extensions will be considered by the funding agency using standard procedures. Requests for changes to awards will be discussed with other involved funding agencies before a mutual decision is reached.


Deadline for ITS (UKRI/BBSRC and NSF/BIO): September 22, 2021

Feedback on ITS will be provided three weeks after the submission deadline.


BBSRC Responsive Mode 22RM1 application deadline: January 2022 (date TBC)

NSF/BIO: Full proposals accepted anytime but should be received by February 2022 to ensure timely review for FY 2022 funding.


UKRI/BBSRC International Collaborative Agreements


Joanne Tornow, Ph.D.
Assistant Director
Directorate for Biological Sciences