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By Invitation Only: The Next Step in Funding the Joshua Tree Genome Project

Hard at work on the full proposal. (CIS)

Back in January we wrote to you about preparing a proposal for the National Science Foundation. Now, we have some encouraging news to share.

Don’t break out the champagne yet though.

Last month we received the good news that our proposal had been ‘invited for a full proposal’.

As research funding has become more and more competitive, the National Science Foundation has turned to using ‘preliminary proposal’ system. Each January scientists from around the country put together short summaries of their latest and greatest research ideas. From the hundreds of preliminary proposals they receive, about eight dozen (approximately 25%) will be invited to submit a full proposal.

And (drum roll, please!) our proposal was one of the lucky ones invited to prepare a longer form description of our research proposal. So, while the rest of you are out enjoying the summer sun (or hiding from triple digit heat if you live in the Mojave), here at the Joshua tree genome project we’ve been hard at work trying to make the best possible case for our work. In a little less than a week we will send off our full proposal. And then we will wait …

We probably won’t hear a final funding decision until December at the earliest, and statistically, our chances are slim. But, at the moment, our thoughts are occupied with all the things that we will do if we were funded.

Here is a partial list of what we have in mind:

  • Completing, assembling, and annotating the full Joshua tree genome
  • Surveying genetic diversity across the entire range of the Joshua tree
  • Common garden experiments to identify genes involved in climate adaptation
  • An expanded citizen science program with Cal Native Plants
  • Public Lectures at the Desert Institute
  • Research internships for underrepresented minority students
  • Outreach to public school teachers in southern California

It’s a long and ambitious list. We hope that it’s enough to make our work stand out. Wish us luck!

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It’s grant proposal season

(CIS)

It was a rainy winter in the Mojave, and it was mighty quiet around the ol’ Joshua Tree Genome Project Page.

But we didn’t just huddle up around the fire.

January means grant proposal deadlines at the National Science Foundation, so while the yucca moths were underground this winter, we were hard at work trying to find funding for the next phase of this project. The generous support we’ve received from donations at Experiment.com and from The Living Desert Zoo, we’ve made huge progress towards assembling the Joshua Tree Genome. However, completing the next stage in the project – identifying the genes involved in adaptation to climate change – is going to be expensive. So, we’re looking to NSF to help us make it happen. Thanks in large part to the work we’ve been able to do so far, that proposal we wrote back in January was interesting enough to NSF for us to be invited to the next round of consideration — look for an update on that part of the process soon.

Research dollars are getting harder and harder to come by as federal spending for basic research has stagnated. So, the competition is fierce, and winning the funding game means we’ve gotta hit it out of the park. I hope what we’ve put together for tomorrow’s deadline is up to the task.

To learn more about the value of basic research check out this great story from the PBS News Hour. It’s an essay by Sheila Patek, a biologist at Duke University who studies, among other things, the biomechanics of mantis shrimp, which use their flimsy forelimbs to punch through tough snail shells. Patek’s work can seem frivolous, but it might also lead to biologically-inspired designs for stronger materials. She says

The nature of discovery is that it is impossible to anticipate what you will find. That is discovery. Discovery-based research is most fruitful when new knowledge is sought for its own sake.

If you agree, maybe phone a friend in Washington to tell her about it?

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