NSF News

US, UK support collaborative research on bioinformatics, microbiomes and synthetic biology

Research in science and engineering benefit immensely from international collaboration and bringing together scientists from diverse backgrounds. The U.S. National Science Foundation is pleased to announce 14 collaborative biology research projects, supported jointly with the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, part of U.K. Research and Innovation.

"As the world becomes more interconnected, so must our research," said Theresa Good, deputy director of the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences. "This international collaboration will lead to enhanced ability to understand biological principles and mechanisms, and to discoveries in fields from agriculture to manufacturing."

The projects with a total investment of $8.7 million and £6.5 million by the two agencies will generate new data, enhance theories on the relationships between organisms and their environments, and advance state-of-the-art methods to understand and harness life’s innovations. Through this partnership, NSF and BBSRC have invested more than $36 million and £24 million respectively in 52 research projects since 2014.

"The BBSRC and NSF’s Directorate for Biological Sciences have a long history of partnering to enable transatlantic collaboration between U.K. and U.S. scientists," said Amanda Collis, executive director of Research Strategy and Programmes. "These latest awards will result in new tools, approaches and knowledge to push back the frontiers of discovery and keep both countries at the forefront of bioscience research globally."

Projects supported include research to develop software and protocols to compare genetic information among rice strains. This "future-proofing" of genomic resources enhances scientists’ understanding of a crop that provides the major daily caloric needs for 50% of the world’s people, accelerating the search for desirable traits such as resistance to periodic droughts and flooding.

To impact agriculture more broadly and assist with conservation, other researchers will examine the evolutionary histories of plants and microbes and how they have responded to drought. The biologists will use techniques such as DNA sequencing and computerized tomography-scanning of roots to determine the effects of soil microbiomes on plant health.

Other research focuses on synthetic biology. One project will use sphingolipids, components of the protective membranes around animal and bacteria cells, to make self-contained vesicles like tiny soap bubbles. This first step in developing realistic synthetic cells that can be programmed could lead to new health care technologies and new ways of replacing environmentally damaging and unsustainable chemical manufacturing methods.

In addition, using synthetic biology tools, another project aims to understand how cells control their shape and movement, essential to the development and function of multicellular organisms. Researchers will define how the rules of protein-protein interactions affect cell biology by building synthetic proteins, whose patterns of interaction can be "built to order."

Learn more about NSF/UKRI research cooperation and view the full list of awards at nsf.gov.