NSF awards $52.5 million in grants to study biocomplexity

The Interrelationship of Living Things with the Environment

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded $52.5 million in research grants to scientists and engineers across the country to foster a better understanding of the interrelationships that arise when living things at all levels-from molecular structures to genes to ecosystems--interact with their environment. "The interplay between life and its environment is complex," explains NSF Director Rita Colwell. "The connections are not necessarily straightforward or easily discerned. These ribbons of interconnections are what NSF's biocomplexity awards will study."

In order to help preserve biodiversity, habitats, and ecosystems, Colwell hopes to eliminate or reduce incomplete or inconsistent scientific information. "We need to study environmental parameters in a broadly based, systematic manner," she says.

This systems approach is the crux of biocomplexity studies, says Colwell. Scientists and engineers must work in teams across diverse fields that go well beyond biology to include physics, systems engineering, economics, geochemistry and others, on studies that extend from the submolecular to mass changes in climate with potential for worldwide impact. "Past investments in molecular biology, remote sensing, information science, and mathematics have yielded tremendous advances and powerful new technologies and tools that now make biocomplexity research possible," she says. "The biggest, most exciting scientific questions are now at the interfaces of traditional disciplines, such as biological chemistry, computational ecology, and environmental genetics."

NSF's Special Competition in Biocomplexity: 2000 is the second phase of a multi-year effort. It supports full research projects, as well as "incubation activities" that enable groups of researchers who have not historically collaborated on biocomplexity research to develop projects

Contact: Ketrina Jackson
National Science Foundation

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