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Understanding the Rules of Life: Microbiome Interactions and Mechanisms (URoL:MIM)

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This document has been archived.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 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.

Understanding the Rules of Life (URoL): Predicting Phenotype is one of NSF’s 10 Big Ideas (https://www.nsf.gov/news/special_reports/big_ideas) and is focused on predicting the set of observable characteristics (phenotypes) based on the genetic makeup of the individual and the nature of its environment. The Understanding the Rules of Life: Microbiome Interactions and Mechanisms (URoL:MIM) program is an integrative collaboration across several Directorates and Offices within the National Science Foundation. The objective of URoL:MIM is to understand interactions and mechanisms that govern the structure and function of microbiomes. By integrating the wide range of accumulated data and information on microbiome structure and function, new causal models of interactions and interdependencies across scales and systems can be generated. Elucidating these relationships will inform our understanding of the Rules of Life – the theoretical constructs and models that explain and predict the emergent characteristics of living systems, as seen in the robustness, resilience, and adaptability of the individual organisms, populations, and communities.

We define a microbiome as a collection of different microbes in a specific habitat. This may include non-host-associated microbiomes and host-associated microbiomes, such as those in humans and other organisms, where i) the microbiome impacts host physiology, behavior, development, and fitness; ii) the host influences the metabolic activity, dynamics and evolution of the microbiome, and iii) the environment (biological, chemical, physical, and social) influences and is influenced by both the host and the microbiome. 

The URoL:MIM program invites integrated, interdisciplinary proposals that create new knowledge in multiple disciplines to develop causal frameworks with well-designed scientific and/or computational approaches to test hypotheses about the relationships within the microbiome, and among the microbiome, the host, and the environment. Projects may develop new computational, mathematical, or experimental tools, and models, to: i) explain function and interactions in natural, experimental, and model microbiomes; ii) elucidate the chemical and molecular mechanisms that underlie communication between the host and the microbiome and among the members of the microbiome; and/or iii) comparatively analyze characteristics of microbiomes to discover emergent properties that provide insight into the behavior of living systems. 

Successful projects will contribute to a portfolio of research that identifies general principles ("rules") that underlie a wide spectrum of biological phenomena across different spatial, complexity (e.g., molecular, cellular, organismal, population), and/or temporal scales (from sub-second to geologic). URoL:MIM projects must be novel and innovative in more than one discipline (e.g., biology, chemistry, computer science, engineering, geology, mathematics, physics, social and behavioral sciences). They must also incorporate best practices regarding protocol documentation, sample selection, data collection and analysis, as well as data sharing and accessibility. URoL:MIM projects must provide workforce development and/or innovative undergraduate or graduate education opportunities that increase the pipeline for MIM in higher education and train the next generation of microbiome scientists. Projects should benefit society through engagement of the public and/or enhancement of K-12 STEM education.

URoL:MIM supports basic science research projects of different scales and scope. Projects may have a total budget of up to $3,000,000 and an award duration of up to 5 years.

Program contacts

Catalina Achim
microbiome@nsf.gov (703) 292-2048 MPS/OAD
Joaquin Martinez Martinez
microbiome@nsf.gov (703) 292-8580
Robert Mayes
microbiome@nsf.gov (703) 292-7267
Mamta Rawat
microbiome@nsf.gov (703) 292-7265 BIO/IOS
Karl J. Rockne
microbiome@nsf.gov 703-292-5356 ENG/CBET
Christopher Sanford
microbiome@nsf.gov (703) 292-7512 TIP/ITE
Sylvia J. Spengler
microbiome@nsf.gov (703) 292-8930 CISE/IIS

Awards made through this program

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