Reproducible Cells and Organoids via Directed-Differentiation Encoding (RECODE)

Funding Agency:
National Science Foundation

The National Science Foundation (NSF) Divisions of Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental and Transport Systems (CBET), Integrative and Organismal Systems (IOS), Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB), and Civil, Mechanical, and Manufacturing Innovation (CMMI) seek proposals that elucidate mechanisms of, and develop strategies to, direct the differentiation of undifferentiated cells into mature, functional cells or organoids. Projects responsive to this solicitation must aim to establish a robustly validated and reproducible set of differentiation design rules, mechanistic models, real-time sensing, control, and quality assurance methods, and integrate them into a workable differentiation strategy. They must also deepen our fundamental understanding of how cells develop and differentiate, to provide insights into mechanisms, molecular machinery, dynamics, and the interplay between cells and their environment, such as cell-cell/cell-microbe and cell-extracellular matrix (ECM) interactions and use this understanding to manipulate cells purposefully. Investigators can choose any undifferentiated cell type from any animal species, including human cell types, as a starting point and choose any appropriate functional product (cell, organoid, etc.) with real-world relevance.  The use of non-model systems (e.g., non-human or non-murine systems) is encouraged as is the exploration of non-medical targets. Functional products can span a diverse range of systems (cardiovascular, nervous, immune, etc.). The RECODE program aligns with NSF’s commitment to the development of capabilities in biotechnology that advance the U.S. Bioeconomy.

The process of differentiation involves a multiplex combination of signaling molecules, receptors, promoters, markers, and chemical and mechanical regulators that dynamically interact to direct cell development and behavior. While individual inducers of native differentiation have been identified and employed to create specialized cell types, we generally lack fundamental understanding of the roles of biochemical and environmental regulators necessary for synthetic induction of differentiation along a predetermined path and the ability to actively monitor and manipulate that path dynamically. Such control of differentiation will be valuable to answer mechanistic questions about basic biological processes that govern physiological function and development of specific cells, tissues, and organs, as well as mechanisms for processes involved in immunity (e.g., symbiosis versus disease, immunological responses to infection).The control of differentiation will also enable the realization of enhanced biomanufacturing, leading to novel products, biomaterials, and significant improvements in individualized medicine, environmental control and monitoring, adaptive sensing, as well as the scalable and reproducible application of 3D organoids in drug testing.

The convergence of many disciplines is necessary to answer the fundamental questions and devise the tools needed to realize truly deterministic cell induction and differentiation strategies. As such, investigators are encouraged to form interdisciplinary teams with expertise in engineering, computation, sensing, systems and synthetic biology, developmental biology, stem cell biology, mechanobiology, cell physiology, microbiology, immunology, and biophysics. Proposals will not be responsive to this solicitation if they address only one aspect of the differentiation process or aim to create a functional living product without improving our understanding and control of the mechanisms that underlie developmental processes. Collaborative proposals, of a duration up to 4 years, with budgets up to $1,500,000 total will be considered. Proposed budgets must be justified by the project scope and need for complementary expertise. The solicitation will support teams of three or more PI/co-PIs and senior personnel with complementary expertise. Proposals with only one PI or one PI with one other senior personnel are not permitted and will be returned without review. Reflecting the need for thoughtful collaboration and planning required for these projects, Preliminary Proposals are required to be submitted prior to submission of a full proposal.

Topics that reside clearly within the boundaries of a single NSF core program are outside of the scope of this solicitation. Specifically, projects centered around the exploration of individual stages/mechanisms of differentiation in isolation or production of engineered cells, tissues, organ-on-a-chip systems, or organoids without developing an understanding of differentiation rules are not responsive to this solicitation.


  • Preliminary Proposal Due Date(s) (required):   Nov. 22, 2021

  • Invited Full Proposal Deadline(s):  March 31, 2022

Agency Website

Eligibility Requirements

Proposals may only be submitted by the following:

  • Institutions of Higher Education (IHEs) - Two- and four-year IHEs (including community colleges) accredited in, and having a campus located in the US, acting on behalf of their faculty members. Special Instructions for International Branch Campuses of US IHEs: If the proposal includes funding to be provided to an international branch campus of a US institution of higher education (including through use of subawards and consultant arrangements), the proposer must explain the benefit(s) to the project of performance at the international branch campus, and justify why the project activities cannot be performed at the US campus.
  • Non-profit, non-academic organizations: Independent museums, observatories, research labs, professional societies and similar organizations in the U.S. associated with educational or research activities.

Principal Investigators (PI) must be at the faculty level, tenured or tenure-track, as determined by the submitting organization.

If the proposal is submitted by a non-profit, non-academic organization, the lead PI must meet all of the following requirements: (1) the PI has a continuing appointment that is expected to last for the duration of a RECODE grant; (2) the appointment has substantial research responsibilities; and (3) the proposed project is related to the PI's job responsibilities as well as to the mission of the department or organization. In addition, a minimum of two collaborating Senior Personnel (e.g., co-PIs, Collaborating PIs) must participate. At least one member of the project team (PI or co-PI) must have a full-time, tenured or tenure-track faculty appointment within a College/Department of Engineering.

Investigators at federal agencies and federally funded research and development centers (FFRDCs) may participate only as unpaid collaborators. FFRDC and federal agency scientists cannot serve as lead PI to be eligible for NSF funding. Non-NSF sponsored FFRDCs are required to provide a letter of support from their agency.

For cooperative projects involving U.S. and foreign organizations, support will only be provided for the U.S. portion. Researchers from a foreign organization cannot be PIs OR co-PIs and must be listed as "non-funded Senior Personnel." Researchers from a foreign organization cannot be supported by subawards. A letter of collaboration from their organization is required per PAPPG Chapter II.C.2.j.

An investigator may only be a PI, Co-PI, or other Senior Personnel on one RECODE proposal. Please be advised that if an individual's name appears, in any of the above-mentioned capacities, on more than ONE proposal, all submittals after the first proposal (based on time-stamp) will be returned without review. No exceptions will be made.

Awardees on active RECODE grants may not serve as a PI, co-PI, or other Senior Personnel on a RECODE proposal until the active award is closed.

Amount Description

Estimated Number of Awards: 4 to 7

Anticipated Funding Amount: $6,100,000 to $11,100,000

Estimated program budget, number of awards and average award size/duration are subject to the availability of funds.

Funding Type





Engineering and Physical Sciences
Environmental & Life Sciences

External Deadline

November 22, 2021