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C-DEBI Request for Research Proposals

Applications are now closed

[PDF version of the Spring 2014 C-DEBI Research RFP]

The NSF Science and Technology Center for Dark Energy Biosphere Investigations (C-DEBI) invites proposals up to $50,000 for projects that are relevant to marine deep biosphere research and in particular complement the scientific program of recent or scheduled International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) drilling expeditions.  C-DEBI values a diverse research environment and encourages proposals from applicants who would help to improve diversity in C-DEBI and STEM fields. This request for proposals is open to all interested researchers at US institutions able to receive NSF funding as a subaward.

C-DEBI Research Themes and Major Programs

C-DEBI seeks to support marine deep biosphere research concerning life in marine sediments and ocean crust.  There are four central research themes:

  1. Activity in the deep biosphere: function & rates of global biogeochemical processes
  2. Extent of life: biomes and the degree of connectivity (biogeography & dispersal)
  3. Limits of life: extremes and norms of carbon, energy, nutrient, temperature, pressure, pH
  4. Evolution and survival: adaptation, enrichment, selection, and cell repair

Although proposals are not limited to these areas, they should clearly state how they contribute to advance our knowledge within these themes. C-DEBI seeks to integrate across these disciplines and encourages knowledge transfer and collaborations across different laboratories.

In addition, C-DEBI Major Programs are a focus of STC activities. When C-DEBI was first proposed, three research programs formed the core of C-DEBI scientific and technical activities: Juan de Fuca Ridge flank (IODP Expedition 327), North Pond (IODP Expedition 336), and South Pacific Gyre (IODP Expedition 336). The three initial Major Program sites feature characteristics along a continuum of field habitats based on hydrothermal vigor, basement age, and thermal state. In 2013, a new Major Program was added: Dorado Outcrop.

Program Objective

C-DEBI’s objectives include support of research activities related to the study of life in the deep marine subsurface, including analysis of samples and data from past cruises; participation in upcoming cruises; and field, laboratory, and theoretical studies of the deep subsurface biosphere.

C-DEBI has a deep appreciation of the specific challenges that accompany microbiological investigations and the study of biogeochemical processes in the deep subsurface, and encourages research that addresses these challenges through approaches such as timely analyses of perishable samples, experiments with live samples, refining or adapting difficult techniques, or applying well-established methods to the analysis of substantial sample sets.  C-DEBI also encourages basic research on biogeochemical processes that will lead to better understanding of subsurface microbial activities, and marine hydrogeological studies performed in the context of C-DEBI research themes.

Proposal Parameters

Proposed projects should be innovative and aim to answer current fundamental research questions and/or contribute to the development of new hypotheses and goals for future studies of the deep sub-seafloor biosphere. Successful proposals will clearly articulate the relevance of proposed research for C-DEBI research themes and/or major programs (where necessary), indicate sources of samples (where necessary), and describe the qualifications of the applicant(s). Entrainment of new researchers previously not funded by C-DEBI will be a consideration in the decision process. See the Review Process section below for additional review details. Applicants are encouraged to read the recent reports from the research theme teams to evaluate how new ideas compliment stated issues for C-DEBI. Applicants are encouraged to see which research projects have been funded by C-DEBI in the past.

Proposals will be considered for research on subseafloor samples, participation on upcoming expeditions (including C-DEBI field programs, IODP expeditions and other field opportunities relevant to C-DEBI objectives), and shore-based investigations. Proposed research can also focus on theoretical and experimental deep biosphere studies in a broader sense, which might include, for example, testing novel techniques for deep biosphere research, lab-based experiments with deep biosphere organisms, model development, and metabolic studies of growth under deep subsurface conditions.  Fundamental studies of microbial metabolism that can be applied to subsurface conditions will also be considered.

We especially encourage proposals with one of the following foci:

  1. Synthesis and integration of datasets related to the Major Programs of C-DEBI. This includes working with samples and data from completed expeditions at South Pacific Gyre, Juan de Fuca Ridge, Dorado Outcrop, and North Pond, as well as modeling studies that link microbiological processes to environmental conditions. Proposals to hold small working group meetings focused on paper writing and proposal development are also encouraged.
  2. Participate in or work on samples from 2014 C-DEBI field programs (i.e., North Pond cruise April 2014, Juan de Fuca Ridge flank cruise in August 2014, Dorado Outcrop cruise in November 2014, North Atlantic long-coring expedition in October-December 2014) or projects that are relevant for new site surveys in preparation of drilling proposals and drilling cruises.

Applicants who wish to use samples or data from IODP expeditions or C-DEBI field programs must ensure that their proposed projects do not conflict with existing expedition-related projects (e.g., shipboard scientists’ projects). Proponents and their intended advisors should resolve this issue by contacting expedition co-chiefs and shipboard scientists before they submit their proposals. In this respect, it should be noted that receiving research support from C-DEBI does not guarantee access to samples or data that are not available to the community at large. A moratorium period of one year is granted to members of the expedition science party to conduct drilling project-related research before core samples and data are made available to the general scientific community. Applicants for C-DEBI support are responsible for securing access to all samples and data needed to complete proposed work, and should provide evidence of access to the samples in the proposal, if appropriate by submitting our IODP Sample and Data Access Form. For the IODP Sample, Data and Obligations Policy and other sample and data access information, visit

Application and Submission

Proposals should include a short project summary of 200 words maximum written for a broad audience, a project description of not more than 5 pages (font size not smaller than 11 points), a bibliographic reference section, a detailed budget and budget justification including institutional overhead, NSF-style 2-page CVs of all participating researchers, and our IODP Sample and Data Access Form (if applicable). Please submit your proposal via our online submission form.

This call is now closed.

Review Process

Please see the detailed Grants Programs FAQs to learn how C-DEBI proposals are reviewed. Proposals undergo separate relevancy and science reviews; only proposals that are relevant to C-DEBI research themes and that are rated highly under scientific criteria are likely contenders for funding.

Contact Information

For questions regarding this call, please contact one of the four theme team leaders:
Theme 1 (Activity): Beth Orcutt (
Theme 2 (Extent of Life): Andreas Teske (
Theme 3 (Limits of Life): Tom McCollom (
Theme 4 (Evolution and Survival): Julie Huber (

Questions regarding proposal submissions can be addressed to:
Rosalynn Sylvan (, C-DEBI Co-Managing Director

> Read our Grants Programs FAQs to understand how C-DEBI proposals are reviewed and more!
> What research projects have been funded?


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