NSF News

Largest cohort of NSF postdoctoral research fellows in biology includes new 'rules of life' track

To conduct research that will foster discoveries in fields from agriculture to genomics, technology, and manufacturing, the U.S. National Science Foundation's Postdoctoral Research Fellowships in Biology program is funding a diverse group of 126 next generation biological scientists — the program's largest cohort to date.

NSF is investing over $19 million to support these fellows and help mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the STEM workforce.

The program supports fellows in four tracks: investigations that broaden the participation of groups underrepresented in biology; interdisciplinary research using biological collections; national plant genome initiative; and the new rules of life track, which aims to integrate diverse subdisciplines of biology by discovering the principles that operate across all levels of life from microbes to ecosystems. The program also supports early stage researchers by including mentorship by sponsoring scientists.

"This year's cohort have varied backgrounds and approaches to biology," said Patricia Soranno, director of the Division of Biological Infrastructure. "Supporting a broad array of research in the biological sciences, especially at these scientists' important early career stage, will advance our understanding of life and its adaptations, and will increase the biological sciences workforce, leading to future advances."

In the program's new track on rules of life, research topics address the fundamental properties of biological systems. One investigation involves determining how genome stabilization occurs to determine if evolution of hybrid species is predictable. Another project seeks to improve predictions of the effect of drought and temperature change on tree mortality.

A project in the broadening participation track uses genomic analysis to investigate interactions between jimson weed (Datura wrightii) and tobacco hornworm (Manduca sexta). It involves outreach to Native American farmers on topics that include farm management and entomology. Another project will examine how Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), a fungus that causes the disease chytridiomycosis in amphibians, has affected amphibian populations worldwide. As part of that work, undergraduate students from underrepresented groups produce materials to be used in teaching how light and vision have evolved and become integrated with behavior in different animals.

More information about the Postdoctoral Research Fellows in Biology program may be found on NSF's website as well as a full list of awards made in FY 2020.