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NSF Pledges $12M in '09 for Research to Fill in Tree of Life

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) - The National Science Foundation wants to continue to add to Darwin’s vision of the branches of evolution by funding studies that will help use the “flood of information” from genome studies to fill in the Tree of Life, NSF said this week.

NSF will spend $12M in 2009 to continue funding the “Assembling the Tree of Life” program, which is focused on supporting the long-term goal of constructing “evolutionary history for all species of life.”

To that end, the NSF plans to back between three and six awards with up to $3 million for up to five years for “innovative research that will resolve evolutionary relationships for large groups of organisms throughout the history of life,” according to the NSF’s program announcement.

Researchers also may receive funding for projects including data acquisition, analysis, algorithm development, and computational phylogenetics and phyloinformatics.

Assembling a phylogeny for all 1.7 million described species will require “a magnified effort, often involving large teams working across institutions and disciplines,” NSF said.

New data relating to the tree of life is coming from a variety sources and in many forms beyond genome sequencing, from morphological information to fossils, behavioral, and developmental studies. Some researchers currently are studying evolutionary pathways of heredity and concentrating on taxonomic groups of “modest size,” NSF said.

The NSF plans to fund projects that are oriented to studies relating to taxonomy, and to developing new methods and theories that can be applied to phylogenetic research.

Studies related to taxonomy should justify a “large-scale approach” beyond single-investigator and small-team projects, and they should address close relatives of certain species, the fossil record, major collections or cultures of subjects, and the internet resources that are available for these organisms.

These studies should have comprehensive plans for collecting and sampling genomic, morphological, and phenotypic data, and procedures for acquiring and developing quality controls for new data such as high-throughput data, developing databases of observations and associated specimens and cultures, among others.

Those projects that are method or theory-oriented should address computational phylogenetics and phyloinformatics, management of genomic or morphological data, evaluating molecular clock estimates, and other data management and archiving issues. Researchers could aim to develop software for phylogenetic reconstruction, navigation, visualization, and query throughout the hierarchy of the tree of life.

Regardless of the focus a study takes, all proposals for support should propose management plans, training, and outreach activities.

More information about the NSF’s “Tree of Life” funding program is available here.

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