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Understanding the Rules of Life: Epigenetics

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This document has been archived.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.


In 2016, the National Science Foundation (NSF) unveiled a set of “Big Ideas,” 10 bold, long-term research and enabling 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 leadership by bringing together diverse disciplinary perspectives to support convergence research. As such, although when responding to this solicitation proposals must be submitted to the Division of Emerging Frontiers in the Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO/EF), upon receipt proposals will be managed by a cross-Directorate team of NSF Program Directors. A full list of the Understanding the Rules of Life awards can be found on the NSF Awards Search.

The purpose of the Understanding the Rules of Life: Epigenetics (URoL:Epigenetics) program is to enable innovative research and to promote multidisciplinary education and workforce training in the broad area of epigenetics. The URoL:Epigenetics program is a wide collaboration across Directorates/Offices within the National Science Foundation with a focus on understanding the relationship between epigenetic mechanisms associated with environmental change, organismal phenotype, and resultant robustness and adaptability of organisms and populations.

Understanding the Rules of Life (URoL): Predicting Phenotype is one of NSF’s 10 Big Ideas and is focused on predicting the set of observable characteristics (phenotype) from the genetic makeup of the individual and the nature of its environment. The development of new research tools has revolutionized our ability to manipulate and investigate the genome and to measure multiple aspects of biological, physical, and social environments. The opportunity now is to assimilate this new information into causal, mechanistic, and/or predictive relationships among the genomic and epigenetic makeup, the environmental experience, and the phenotypic characteristics of biological systems. These relationships are the basis for the Rules of Life – the theoretical constructs that explain and predict the characteristics of living systems, from molecular and sub-cellular components, to cells, whole organisms, communities and biomes.

The recognition that heritable phenotypic properties can occur without modification of an organism’s genome sequence is changing the understanding of the way heritable traits come about and manifest themselves as observable phenotypes within a particular static or changing environmental context. The impact of epigenetic inheritance occurs at the molecular, cellular, and organismal scales, and may have profound consequences for the higher-order organization of living systems, including populations, communities, and ecosystems.

Successful projects of the URoL:Epigenetics Program are expected to use complementary, interdisciplinary approaches to investigate how epigenetic phenomena lead to emergent properties that explain the fundamental behavior of living systems. Ultimately, successful projects should identify general principles ("rules") that underlie biological phenomena within or across scales of size, complexity (e.g., molecular, cellular, organismal, population) and time (from sub-second to geologic) in taxa from anywhere within the tree of life, including humans. URoL:Epigenetics projects must integrate perspectives and research approaches from more than one research discipline (e.g., biology, chemistry, computer science, engineering, geology, mathematics, physics, social and behavioral sciences). The interdisciplinary scope of URoL:Epigenetics projects also provides unique training and outreach possibilities to train the next generation of scientists in a diversity of approaches and to engage society more generally.  

The URoL:Epigenetics Program offers two submission tracks: Track 1 - for projects with a total budget of up to $500,000 and an award duration of up to 3 years, and Track 2 - for projects with a total budget of up to $3,000,000 and award duration of up to 5 years.


Program contacts

Mitra Basu
epigen@nsf.gov 703-292-8649 CISE/CCF
Karen C. Cone
epigen@nsf.gov (703) 292-4967 BIO/OAD
Rebecca Ferrell
epigen@nsf.gov 703-292-7850 SBE/SES
Karla Heidelberg
epigen@nsf.gov 703 292-2586
Louise R. Howe
epigen@nsf.gov 703-292-2548 ENG/EFMA
Sandra Romano
epigen@nsf.gov (703) 292-5064
John-David Swanson
epigen@nsf.gov 703-292-2898
Junping Wang
epigen@nsf.gov 703-292-4488

Awards made through this program

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