Give Input on Structural Biology Resource and Infrastructure Needs

Earlier this year, I told you about the formation of two committees focused on Protein Structure Initiative (PSI) transition planning. These committees are charged with determining what unique resources and capabilities developed during the PSI should be preserved after the initiative ends and how this preservation should be done.

An important part of this process is getting input from the community, so we have just issued a request for information (RFI), NOT-GM-14-115, seeking comments about structural biology resources that have a high impact on the community, whether those resources have been supported through the PSI or by other means. We also want to hear what you think about the future of structural biology-related technology development, which has been an important feature of the PSI.

While the RFI invites comments on these specific topics, you should not feel limited to them—we welcome any comments that you feel are relevant.

To respond to the RFI, send an e-mail to nigmspsirfi@mail.nih.gov by May 23, 2014. When we compile the responses, we’ll remove any personal identifiers like names and e-mail addresses and only use de-identified comments.

If you have any questions about the RFI or the transition committees, please let me know.

Protein Structure Initiative Transition Planning Committees

Shortly after NIGMS Director Jon Lorsch announced plans to sunset the Protein Structure Initiative after the completion of the PSI:Biology phase in 2015, he commissioned two committees to determine what unique resources and capabilities developed during the PSI should be preserved and how that should be done. The committees, which are working together, held their first meetings in December and expect to present their recommendations within the year.

The external committee, which includes practitioners of structural biology and biomedical researchers who use structural biology data and resources in their work, will primarily focus on community needs. It also will suggest emerging challenges and opportunities in structural biology.

The internal committee, which is composed of NIH staff, will focus on how to implement the priorities identified by the external committee. The group includes a member from each NIGMS scientific division as well as several representatives from other NIH institutes who have experience managing structural biology and large, complex research programs.

The work of these committees will help define how we can provide continued access to important structural biology resources and identify new directions for technology development with potential for broad biomedical impact.

As Jon wrote in a Feedback Loop post about bolstering support for investigator-initiated research and as also reported in a Nature news article Exit icon, the decision to sunset a large set-aside program that has received substantial investments, such as the PSI, should not be interpreted as a lack of support for team science. Multidisciplinary collaborations are likely to become increasingly important as we delve deeper into complex biological problems, and we will continue to sponsor team approaches to biomedical research. We also remain committed to supporting structural biology research through investigator-initiated grant mechanisms, innovative technology development and access to critical resources.

Biomedical Technology Research Resources: Funding and Access Opportunities

Our Biomedical Technology Research Resources (BTRRs)—until recently known as Biomedical Technology Research Centers—develop and disseminate cutting-edge technologies and methods that allow scientists nationwide to advance their projects beyond the levels that could be attained using commonly available laboratory resources.

If you’re a researcher who works collaboratively to create and integrate potentially transformative biomedical technologies and are interested in providing service and training to the scientific community, you may want to apply for a BTRR grant. The first step is to submit your concept in a pre-application. Feedback from its review can help you decide whether to submit a full application.

If you’re a biomedical researcher with a project in need of technology resources, you may be able to access them at an existing BTRR. The Biomedical Technology Resources Portal Exit icon includes descriptions of the available resources Exit icon, including those funded through NIH’s National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, and instructions for accessing them Exit icon.

Before granting use of its technologies (whether remotely or in-person), the BTRR will evaluate your research project for demonstrated need as well as the level of engagement and assistance that would be required of resource staff. It’s also possible that, if your project has potential for advancing a newly emerging technology, you’ll be able to collaborate with BTRR investigators as they develop it. This close collaboration benefits your research and also furthers innovation at the BTRR.

For more details about the BTRR program, please contact me or Doug Sheeley.

Web Chat to Stimulate Student Interest in Cell Biology and Research Careers

Cell Day 2014: Web Chat with NIH Scientists. February 28, 2014. 10a.m. to 3 p.m. ESTWe’re hosting another Cell Day interactive Web chat on Friday, February 28, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. EST. During this time, members of the NIGMS scientific staff, including our director Jon Lorsch, will answer questions from students, teachers and the public about cell biology and research careers.

You can follow the chat live from the Cell Day Web site or read the transcript, which will be posted there shortly after the event. The site also includes registration information, the transcript from the 2012 event and classroom resources about the cell.

Please let people in your local schools and community know about Cell Day.

This event is just one example of the Institute’s commitment to encouraging and preparing future generations of scientists via formal research training and informal learning opportunities.

Fostering Open Science

Recently, I participated in a workshop on Open Science: Driving Forces and Practical Realities Exit icon. The idea to make scientific research, data and information accessible to the public isn’t new and arguably has historical roots dating back to the late 1600s, when academic journal publishing began. But it’s particularly timely today in light of the rapid increase in the volume of data and the value it has to the public.

During the workshop, we explored the technical, financial, political and cultural forces that drive open science and how these forces impact information sharing, re-use, interoperability and the preservation of the scientific record. I also talked about NIH’s ongoing commitment to open science.

In 2003, NIH created a Data Sharing Policy, and, in 2008, it issued a Public Access Policy for publications. A Genomic Data Sharing Policy is currently in draft form. All of these documents communicate the need to ensure public access to the relevant biomedical data, information and publications that are a result of federally funded biomedical research.

In addition to establishing these guidelines, NIH funds projects that foster open science, including the RCSB Protein Data Bank Exit icon, The Cancer Genome Atlas, The Cancer Imaging Archive Exit icon, the Neuroimaging Informatics Tools and Resources Clearinghouse Exit icon and PhysioNet Exit icon. NIH is also playing a role in crowdsourced projects, such as the systems biology-related Dialogue for Reverse Engineering Assessments and Methods challenges Exit icon, as well as projects to develop common languages for research, such as the Common Data Element Resource Portal. Another exciting NIH-funded initiative is the Medical Device “Plug and Play” Interoperability Program Exit icon, which aims to create cost-effective and innovative third-party medical “apps” for clinical diagnosis, treatment, research and safety.

In preparing my presentation for the recent workshop, I recalled the day when I heard about the biomedical community taking a quantum leap forward into open science. It was the early spring of 1996, and I was eating lunch with my graduate student and postdoc colleagues. We were discussing the International Large-Scale Sequencing Meeting and the resulting “Bermuda principles” for the release of data generated by the Human Genome Project. We were particularly excited to learn that scientists associated with that project had unanimously agreed that all genomic sequencing data should be freely available and in the public domain prior to publication.

Nearly 20 years later, the move toward open science continues to offer a forum for scientists–from fields that range from astronomy and physics to medical and clinical research–to discuss policies and practical tools for collaboration. It also allows the community to come together and tackle the challenges and unique opportunities of sharing science in a truly collaborative way. I invite you all to join me in the discussion and in furthering progress in this important area.

NIH’s Sally Rockey on PubMed Comments, 2013 Success Rates, Lead Time for Inviting NIH Staff to Meetings

Within the last week, NIH’s Sally Rockey has published posts that may be of interest to you:

PubMed Gets Interactive: The broader public now can view opinions and information shared by authors on scientific publications in PubMed.

Application Success Rates Decline in 2013: An early analysis of 2013 competing research project grant applications and awards at NIH shows a downward trend for success rates. NOTE: We at NIGMS are currently working on our annual funding trends post.

Understanding Lead-time for NIH Staff Participation in Scientific Meetings: Invitations for NIH program, review or other staff to speak at or attend a meeting need to be made as early as possible due to approval requirements and budget constraints. NOTE: Sally Rockey’s post suggests at least 4 months advance notice, but at NIGMS, we recommend at least 6 months.

Test-Drive NIH’s New Tool for Generating Biosketches

NIH’s Sally Rockey recently blogged about SciENcv, a new tool for easily generating and maintaining biosketches for federal grant applications and progress reports. The system also allows users to link biographical information with publication records and to generate a unique international ID through the ORCID Exit icon initiative.

SciENcv is presently in beta release. Users—from seasoned investigators creating biosketches for different grant applications to students and postdocs writing a biosketch for the first time—can provide feedback about what works, what doesn’t and what other functionalities they want. Register for SciENcv via MyNCBI, and send your input by using the site’s contact form or by e-mailing info@ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.

Meeting to Highlight NIGMS-Funded Systems Biology Program

National Centers for Systems Biology Portal - Find updates, news stories, training opportunities and moreFor 10 years, our National Centers for Systems Biology (NCSB) program has enabled pioneering research, research training, education and outreach programs focused on systems-level inquiries of biomedical phenomena within the NIGMS mission.

Currently, the program funds 15 centers that are focused on molecular and cellular biology, genetics, pharmacology and physiology. The centers have advanced research in these scientific areas and have significantly contributed to the development of systems biology courses, graduate programs and departments at institutions across the nation, supporting and further building research teams that integrate expertise across traditional disciplinary boundaries.

To mark the program’s anniversary, we are hosting a special annual centers meeting to inform the broader scientific community about the status and achievements of the program. In addition to presentations highlighting each center’s activities, the agenda includes a plenary talk by Arthur Lander of the University of California, Irvine, titled “Lighting the Way: Ten Years of National Centers for Systems Biology,” and presentations by young scientists whose careers have been impacted by the program.

The meeting will be held on July 11-12 in the Natcher Conference Center on the NIH campus. You can now register to attend and see who is participating.

Here are a few examples of how the research being conducted by the NIGMS-funded systems biology centers is advancing our knowledge in a broad range of scientific areas:

  • The Virtual Physiological Rat Project Exit icon at the Medical College of Wisconsin used data analysis and computational modeling to show that arterial stiffening alone best explains the development of hypertension in aging individuals; the methodology can serve as a model for studying the basis of other diseases.
  • The Center for Systems and Synthetic Biology Exit icon at the University of California, San Francisco, has created minimal circuits that can reprogram the self-organization of structures within the cell, offering a potential method for engineering cells to carry out specific therapeutic functions.
  • Using dynamical modeling, the San Diego Center for Systems Biology Exit icon at the University of California, San Diego, has helped explain how quantitative differences in epigenetic steady states may result in qualitatively different cell-type-specific control of signaling.
  • The Center for Complex Biological Systems Exit icon at the University of California, Irvine, has provided novel insights into the strategies underlying robust pattern formation in biological systems.
  • The Center for Modular Biology Exit icon at Harvard University has explored whether networks of interacting components, or modules, are pervasive building blocks in biological systems, and how the existence of these building blocks restrains or enhances the generation of diversity.
  • The Center for Systems Biology Exit icon at the Institute for Systems Biology is seeking out how dynamic molecular networks of cells process inputs from their environment to mount appropriate responses, such as metabolic, morphological and phenotypic changes.
  • The Center for Genome Dynamics Exit icon at the Jackson Laboratory has developed and commercialized two highly sought-after genotyping platforms that are useful in mouse research.

For more highlights, including a recent award from Science magazine for an online computational biology course Exit icon from the Center for Genome Dynamics, see the NCSB news page. An array of databases, software and other resources, including training materials, developed by the centers are available for use through the NCSB portal Exit icon.

Applying for Scientific Administration Jobs at NIGMS

If you’re interested in becoming a health scientist administrator or program director at NIGMS or another part of NIH, here is information from NIH’s Office of Human Resources (OHR) to help you navigate the job application process and prepare a strong application package.

NIGMS and other NIH components post every job opening on www.USAJOBS.gov Exit icon, the official Office of Personnel Management (OPM) job site that services all federal agencies. These job postings are referred to as “vacancy announcements.” If you’re not relying on sources such as NIGMS’ Feedback Loop to alert you to specific job openings, we at NIH OHR encourage you to use the USAJOBS search engine Exit icon to target positions of interest.

When utilizing USAJOBS, an important item to be aware of is the vacancy announcement’s closing date. Many NIH announcements are advertised on USAJOBS for 5 business days. This is in response to the President’s Executive Order mandating hiring reform measures to streamline and accelerate government hiring processes. In some cases, original closing dates may be extended, but applications cannot be accepted once the closing date has passed.

We recommend that you keep your USAJOBS account—including your profile and supporting documentation—current so that you can quickly respond to new vacancy announcements. USAJOBS also allows you to store cover letters, certifications and unofficial transcripts in a “saved documents” section.

Applications received through USAJOBS are initially reviewed by an OHR human resource specialist who identifies highly qualified applicants and refers these applicants’ resumes and documentation to the selecting official. Because of the highly rigorous qualification process mandated by OPM, it is critical that your resume accurately describes your major activities, responsibilities and scope; a curriculum vitae with job titles and dates is not enough information for qualification purposes. For more information, please see these tips for developing effective federal resumes Exit icon.

You can find more suggestions, tutorials and FAQs at the USAJOBS Resource Center. You also can follow us at these sites:
Jobs at NIH Twitter icon Facebook icon LinkedIn icon

Crystallography Gets Support from United Nations, NIGMS

Laue X-ray diffraction pattern of a single crystal of a dimeric hemoglobin taken at the BioCARS structural biology research center. Credit: Vukica Srajer, BioCARS/University of Chicago, and William Royer, Jr., University of Massachusetts Medical School
Laue X-ray diffraction pattern of a single crystal of a dimeric hemoglobin taken at the BioCARS structural biology research center. Credit: Vukica Srajer, BioCARS/University of Chicago, and William Royer, Jr., University of Massachusetts Medical School

As NIH Director Francis Collins recently noted on his blog, this year marks the 100th anniversary of the first experiment demonstrating that X-rays are diffracted by crystals. Two years later, this discovery was recognized with a Nobel Prize in physics. For this and other reasons, the United Nations has designated 2014 as the International Year of Crystallography Exit icon. The designation offers an opportunity for organizations worldwide to increase public awareness of the field and promote access to crystallographic knowledge and activities.

X-ray crystallography is central to many areas of basic biomedical research, and NIGMS supports a number of major crystallographic efforts that may be of interest and use to you.

Since 2000, our Protein Structure Initiative (PSI) has undertaken the high-throughput determination of protein structures by crystallography and NMR methods, resulting in the deposition in the public Protein Data Bank Exit icon of more than 5,000 macromolecular structures. The initiative’s current phase focuses on the determination of biologically relevant and important structures. Members of the scientific community can nominate proteins Exit icon for structure determination, order protein plasmids and empty vectors Exit icon, and access PSI data and other resources Exit icon. Active PSI funding opportunities solicit applications for Technology Development for High-Throughput Structural Biology Research (R01) and Technology Development for Protein Modeling (R01).

We also have been involved in supporting the construction, upgrade and maintenance of synchrotron beamline stations for X-ray crystallographic studies. These activities include a state-of-the-art facility Exit icon at the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory, which we established in partnership with the National Cancer Institute. Our support of synchrotron facilities and of crystallographic technology development has improved access for NIH grantees and other users and increased the capacity for crystallographic data collection.

In addition, we now oversee the Biomedical Technology Research Centers, several of which focus on developing and applying innovative crystallography techniques. These resource centers provide broad access to instruments, methods, software, expertise and hands-on training.

I look forward to sharing more details about the International Year of Crystallography as activities get under way.