Wednesday, February 20, 2013

University of Idaho faculty members of the Institute for Bioinformatics and Evolutionary Studies (IBEST) were awarded $718,304 in competitive grants as part of the NSF BEACON Science and Technology Center on "Evolution in Action". The award will be dispersed over two years. $513,304 for 2013-14 academic year, and $204,836 for the 2014-15 academic year. These funds support nine projects involving 12 faculty members along with their graduate and undergraduate students, and postdoctoral researchers. Funding went to James A. Foster, Craig McGowan, Travis Hagey, Tanya Miura, Holly Wichman and Luke Harmon in Biological Sciences, and Robert Heckendorn and Terence Soule in Computer Science.

Of the 93 proposals submitted to NSF BEACON, only 55 were funded, a 59 percent success rate overall. Seven of the nine submitted from U-Idaho were funded, a 78 percent success rate. The proposals were peer reviewed based on nine specific criteria, including intellectual merit, impact on institutional diversity, and educational impact.

Funded projects comprise research in biology and computer science, new ways to teach evolution, and increased minority participation. McGowan will investigate why and how some animals hop. Soule and Heckendorn are developing ways to control robots with cloud computing. Wichman and Miura are developing new ways to study viruses. Foster and Harmon will investigate why some newts in Oregon and Idaho are fatally poisonous and how they use the poisons to communicate with each other. Hagey is developing new sticky materials based on the way that geckos adhere to walls. Soule, the educational coordinator for BEACON at U-Idaho, will develop a simulation based curricula for teaching evolution. Heckendorn, the diversity coordinator for BEACON at U-Idaho, will coordinate efforts throughout BEACON to engage more underrepresented groups in BEACON activities.

IBEST is an interdisciplinary research group focused on understanding the patterns and processes of evolution that occur over comparatively short periods of time. The hallmarks of IBEST research are the coupling of empirical and theoretical research, and a strong orientation toward rigorous testing of hypotheses. We place a high value on interdisciplinary collaborations that blend the expertise of biologists, biochemists, ecologists, evolutionary biologists, mathematicians, statisticians, and computer scientists to study evolution.

The BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action is a five institution consortium that includes the U-Idaho, Michigan State University, University of Washington, University of Texas at Austin and North Carolina Ag and Tech. BEACON is an NSF Science and Technology Center founded with the mission of illuminating and harnessing the power of evolution in action to advance science and technology and benefit society. Research at BEACON focuses on biological evolution, digital evolution, and evolutionary applications in engineering, uniting biologists who study natural evolutionary processes with computer scientists and engineers who are harnessing these processes to solve real-world problems.

For more information, please contact James A. Foster, the director of the U-Idaho BEACON program, at

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