In 2016, the Collections in Support of Biological Research (CSBR) program was evaluated in order to determine how well the program was enabling research across the Biological Sciences and whether it could be improved in this area. The Office of the Assistant Director (OAD), in collaboration with the Division of Biological Infrastructure (DBI), undertook an assessment to evaluate the effectiveness of the program towards the evolving needs of the biological community, which has become more complex, diverse, and centered on data storage, access, and analysis. The evaluation provided the rationale to reinstate the CSBR program, but suggested some modifications. Overall, the results supported the success of the program in attaining the priorities stated in the CSBR Solicitation NSF 15-577, including securing collections through infrastructure enhancement, maintenance and digitization, improving access through digitization and collection integration, and supporting and enabling research in the biological sciences. Part of this evaluation included a request from DBI, querying CSBR awardees to provide feedback on the CSBR program. The evaluation also examined responses to a previous DBI blog post from leaders of professional societies, government researchers, CSBR-funded investigators, non CSBR-funded research users of the collections, students, and private citizens, and stated support for the activities provisioned through the CSBR program. Based on the outcome of the evaluation, the CSBR program will accept proposals for Fiscal Year 2018 (FY18) with a solicitation deadline of August 14, 2017.
What is the role of CSBR in supporting biological research?
The CSBR program focuses on Natural History and Living Stocks collections and plays an important role in contributing to the security of, and improvements to, biological collections infrastructure and accessibility to these resources and related data. The program funds many activities such as databasing, geo-referencing, and imaging that are associated with securing and improving access to collections. It also supports the development of innovative approaches to handling living stocks, one-time improvements in operations of established collections, and support for development of DNA libraries, isolated DNA, and antibodies. Additionally, CSBR supports activities involving the application of new and improved curatorial techniques and tools related to the care, preservation, storage, and data management of collections. An important goal of the CSBR program is the collections it supports are utilized by projects in other parts of the Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO).
The goals of the evaluation included examining the impact of the program with respect to how NSF investments could make a difference in long-term resource needs for biological research. To achieve these goals, three major themes were targeted:
- The types of collections supported through CSBR and collection users
- The nature of support
- How innovative use adds to the value of biological collections
The types of the collections supported through CSBR and collection users
To gauge the taxonomic categories of collections supported through the CSBR program, a total of 129 projects were analyzed that were active during the period from 2011-16. Of these, 106 projects were categorized as Natural History Collections and 19 projects were categorized as Living Stocks. Natural History Collections contain records of life on Earth that are unique and irreplaceable, including specimens of extinct species, along with temporal information on changes in the ranges of native and introduced species. A breakdown of Natural History collections projects by taxonomic groups is displayed in the table. The assessment also showed that CSBR Natural History collections typically support research funded through the Division of Environmental Biology (DEB).
Living Stocks collections play a key role in the advancement and innovation of biological research by providing well-characterized and documented experimental organisms to researchers at modest cost. In total, 19 funded projects were classified as Living Stocks across multiple taxa, including vertebrates, invertebrates, and plants. The assessment findings indicate a substantial level of use of Living Stocks collections supported by CSBR, primarily by researchers in Integrative Organismal Systems (IOS) and the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB).
The assessment identified the potential users of funded collections as researchers, resource managers, environment scientists, curators, educators, students, and visitors. The CSBR program would benefit from increased reports and statistics by PIs on potential users.
The nature of support
The nature of support was another theme targeted by the assessment to understand the urgency and scope of activities supported by projects. Urgency is one criterion used to select projects for funding collections at risk or facing problems, such as collection reorganization, specimen conservation, and physical storage infrastructure improvements. A subset of the same 129 projects analyzed above were manually reviewed for evidence of urgency for support. From the 129 projects, 98 funded projects were considered in this analysis; Living Stocks, workshops, conferences, and Research Coordination Networks (RCNs) were not included because under the current solicitation only Natural History projects are evaluated based on urgency. Within the 98 funded projects, eight different categories of support emerged.
Acute deterioration of the specimens, storage infrastructure, space limitations, and access to rare specimens were the most frequent rationale for urgency. Nearly a quarter (23%) of projects stated that current storage conditions limit accessibility.
How innovative use adds to the value of biological collections
The CSBR program paves the way for innovation in the use of biological collections. By securing and making collections data more available, collections and associated data can be used by researchers and educators in novel ways. Biological collections can be utilized for an increasingly broad spectrum of research, such as tracking and understanding disease vectors, predicting environmental change, understanding the bio-mechanics and feeding mechanisms of animals, and promoting bio-inspired engineering and synthetic biology. Collections also play a fundamental role in documenting biological diversity. The Postdoctoral Research Fellowships in Biology (PRFB), another program managed by DBI, has a competitive track in which Fellows are expected to use biological collections for innovative research. In addition, DBI’s Advancing Digitization of Biodiversity Collections (ADBC) program looks for compelling science drivers that define digitization priorities to provide an opportunity for researchers, educators, and students to probe and further understand the fundamentals of biology through improved accessibility to a national resource of biological collections.
Interested in submitting a proposal?
The CSBR Solicitation deadline is August 14, 2017 for FY18 awards. For more information, check out the CSBR Program.
For inquiries, please contact the CSBR Program: DBICSBR@nsf.gov