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Understanding the Rules of Life: Emergent Networks (URoL:EN)

Status: Archived

Archived funding opportunity

This document has been archived.

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.

Predicting Transformation of Living Systems in Evolving Environments

Supports interdisciplinary research to understand how key properties of living systems emerge and how emerging networks of organismal, natural, social and/or human-engineered systems respond to or influence an evolving environment.


In 2016, the National Science Foundation (NSF) unveiled a set of "Big Ideas," 10 bold, long-term research and process ideas that identify areas for future investment at the frontiers of science and engineering (see https://www.nsf.gov/news/special_reports/big_ideas/index.jsp). The Big Ideas represent unique opportunities to position our Nation at the cutting edge of global science and engineering by bringing together diverse disciplinary perspectives to support convergence research. As such, when responding to this solicitation, even though proposals must be submitted to the Division of Emerging Frontiers in the Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO/EF), once received, the proposals will be managed by a cross-disciplinary team of NSF Program Directors.

The Understanding the Rules of Life: Predicting Phenotype "Big Idea" is based on developing a predictive understanding of how key properties of living systems emerge from interactions of factors such as genomes, phenotypes, and evolving environments. Ideally, the predictive capability of the Rules of Life explored by projects supported by the program will enable us to address some of the greatest challenges we currently face in understanding the living world.  This Understanding the Rules of Life: Emergent Networks (URoL:EN) solicitation is a cross-directorate program of NSF that aims to develop a predictive understanding of how key properties of living systems emerge from interactions of factors such as genomes, phenotypes, and environments and how emerging networks of organismal, natural, social, and/or  human-engineered systems respond to or influence evolving environments.  Successful projects of the URoL:EN program are expected to use convergent approaches that explore emergent network properties of living systems across various levels of organizational scale and, ultimately, to contribute to understanding the rules of life through new theories and reliable predictions about the impact of specific environmental changes on behaviors of complex living systems, or engineerable interventions and technologies based on a rule of life to address associated outcomes for societal benefit. Projects that advance all of the different fields of science represented in the project and that represent different NSF Directorates are strongly encouraged. 

Using such convergent approaches, proposals must:  

  1. Identify a rule(s) of life around which the proposed research is oriented or to which the research is applied. 
  2. Include a compelling convergent research plan with deep integration across disciplines. 
  3. Involve a basic, or fundamental, research approach to investigate a new understanding of emergent networks of interactions between organisms and Earth, human, natural, and/or human-engineered systems in evolving environments.

The convergent scope of URoL:EN projects also provides unique STEM education and outreach possibilities to train the next generation of scientists in a diversity of approaches and to engage society more generally. Hence, the URoL:EN program encourages research projects that integrate training and outreach activities in their research plan, provide convergent training opportunities for researchers and students, develop novel teaching modules, and broaden participation of under-represented groups in science.

The URoL:EN Program will support projects with a total budget of up to $3,000,000 and an award duration of up to 5 years.

Program contacts

Betsy von Holle
e-networks@nsf.gov (703) 292-4974 BIO/DEB
Zhilan J. Feng
e-networks@nsf.gov (703) 292-7523 MPS/DMS
Jeremy Guinn
e-networks@nsf.gov (703) 292-8193
Grace M. Hwang
e-networks@nsf.gov (703) 292-4271
Hector Munoz-Avila
e-networks@nsf.gov (703) 292-4481 CISE/IIS
Dena M. Smith-Nufio
e-networks@nsf.gov (703) 292-7431 GEO/EAR
Trisha Van Zandt
e-networks@nsf.gov (703) 292-7437 SBE/BCS

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