Date:  May 11, 2015




Keck Futures Initiative Awards $1 Million for 13 Research Projects


WASHINGTON -- The National Academies Keck Futures Initiative – a project of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine – announced today the recipients of 13 grants awarded to support interdisciplinary research projects related to collective behavior, which was the subject of the 12th annual Futures conference held last November.


"We received far more high-quality proposals than funds available," said Gene E. Robinson, steering committee chair and director of the Institute for Genomic Biology and Swanlund Chair of Entomology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  "We scored the proposals based on their interdisciplinarity, relevance to collective behavior at all scales -- from cells to societies, riskiness/boldness, and the importance and potential impact of the projects.  We believe that the portfolio of collaborations selected will bring impressive results."


These competitive seed grants aim to fill a critical gap in funding for research on new ideas.  Major federal funding programs do not typically provide support in areas that are considered risky or unusual.  The Futures grants allow researchers to start recruiting students and postdoctoral fellows, purchasing equipment, and acquiring preliminary data -- all of which can position the researchers to compete for larger awards from other public and private sources.


Listed in alphabetical order -- principal investigators (PIs) first, then co-PIs -- the award recipients and their grant research topics are:


Anamaria Berea, University of Maryland

Emergence of communication in socio-biological networks from individual subjective signals and responses -- $75,000

This project will model the emergence and evolution of communication in socio-biological groups. The model will be developed as a dynamic computer simulation to visually demonstrate the co-evolution of networks and languages. This computer simulation has the potential to be used by researchers in various fields to explore scenarios of subjective signals and responses.


Guy Bloch, Washington University

Erik Herzog and Jr-Shin Li, Washington University

Collective behavior of oscillators: From cells to societies -- $100,000

Daily rhythms in individuals and societies depend on mechanisms that synchronize circadian oscillators to each other and to the local environment. Using experiments on mammalian cells in vitro, bees in the field, and computational modeling, these researchers will test whether similar mechanisms underlie circadian synchronization from cells to societies.


Sarah Brosnan, Georgia State University

Tyrone Grandison, Proficiency Labs

Katharine Jack, Tulane University

Sekou Remy, Clemson University

Mark Hauber, Hunter College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York

Limits to collective behavior: Theoretical and empirical assessment of the lower and upper limits of group size to effect cooperative behaviors -- $100,000

How does the number of individuals present affect whether collective behavior emerges and is maintained?  This team will test how group size influences collective behavior, using simulations that will be the foundation of empirical tests to determine both the minimum group size required and the maximum beyond which collective behavior collapses.


Tim Gernat, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Nina Fefferman, Rutgers University

Noa Pinter-Wollman, University of California, San Diego

Martin Middendorf, University of Leipzig, Germany

Gene E. Robinson, Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Trade-offs between collective function and disease spread in an animal society -- $100,000

Collective behavior depends on interactions that coordinate individuals, yet these interactions also spread disease. This project will incorporate state-of-the-art monitoring technology to examine how honey bees adjust colony interaction patterns in response to disease. Lessons learned may help to manage disease transmission in bees, humans, and other animals.


Michael Goodisman and Daniel Goldman, Georgia Institute of Technology

The role of confined environments on social life -- $75,000

Collective behaviors rely critically on the interactions of individuals with both their biological and physical environment.  This research team will study ant and robot societies to understand the importance of restricted space on collective actions.  The proposed studies will lead to a greater understanding of the factors affecting sociality.


Mark Hauber, Hunter College, City University of New York

Flora Mora-Kepfer Uy, University of Miami

Tinkering or de novo evolution: The neural basis of collective defense behaviors -- $50,000

Do different types of collective behaviors share similar sensory cues and cognitive bases within and across distantly related organisms? This project will assess the neural mechanisms of whether and how collective nest defense (mobbing of parasites) differs from cooperative responses to flock- and nest-mates of social insects and colonial birds.


David Hughes, Pennsylvania State University

Tyler Massaro and Kelly Rooker, University of Tennessee

Corrie Moreau, Field Museum

The evolution of microbes in a social world -- $25,000

One of the major transitions of life on Earth was the transition to species that obligately live as social groups (e.g. Ants. This project proposes using both mathematical biology and life history studies to examine how this major transition affects the microbes living inside the ants themselves.


Lilianne Mujica-Parodi, Stony Brook University

Carla Koehler, University of California, Los Angeles

Sergei Maslou, Brookhaven National Laboratory

Hava Siegelmann, University of Massachusetts-Amherst

Allen Taylor, Tufts University

Multiscale modeling: Metabolic constraints on self-organizing brain networks -- $100,000

Neurological/psychiatric diseases are associated with connectivity abnormalities, yet the mechanistic basis for connectivity, and the factors that constrain its development, are unknown.  This team will model connectivity as a function of synapses, glia, and mitochondria to infer dynamic network self-organization under metabolic constraints, and their emergent properties at the neuroimaging scale.


Oded Nov and Maurizio Porfiri, New York University

Guy Bloch, The Hebrew University of Jeruslaem

Toward an integrative science of collective behavior: A cross-species model for the interplay between individual variation and behavioral plasticity and its influence on group performance -- $100,000

Using humans and bees as model systems, combined with modeling tools from dynamical systems theory, these researchers will seek to understand and model how individual variation and behavioral plasticity interact to shape group performance. The insights will contribute to the foundation of an integrative science of collective behavior transcending species boundaries.


Noa Pinter-Wollman, University of California, San Diego

Guy Theraulaz, Research Center on Animal Cognition in Toulouse, France

Stephen Fiore, University of Central Florida, Institute for Simulation and Training

How do architectural designs affect collective behavior? -- $100,000

Built environments influence how inhabitants interact and the collective outcomes that emerge from these interactions, yet we know little about them. This team will attempt to unite disparate disciplines and establish a new interdisciplinary research topic to better understand the link between architecture and collective behavior – from humans to insects.


William Ratcliff, Georgia Institute of Technology

Gabor Balazsi, Stony Brook University

Jeremy Van Cleve, University of Kentucky

Daniel Wells, Northwestern University

Origin of multicellular development via the capture of a stochastic process -- $25,000

The evolution of multicellular development was critical for the origin of large, complex organisms, but early steps in the origin of this key trait remain unresolved. This interdisciplinary group will use cutting-edge techniques in experimental evolution, yeast genetics, and mathematical modeling to examine a novel hypothesis for its origin.


Blanka Sharma and Glyn Palmer, University of Florida

Matteo Cavaliere, University of Edinburgh

Evolutionary game theory models of stem cell interactions in tissue engineering systems: Achieving control of conflict -- $100,000

The success of stem cell based therapies requires control of heterogeneous stem cell differentiation. This project proposes an interdisciplinary approach based on evolutionary game theory, experiments, and in silico models to understand how interactions/conflicts between stem cells that respond positively and negatively to exogenous cues impact the overall tissue repair process.


Jeremy Van Cleve, University of Kentucky

Erol Akcay and Timothy Linksvayer, University of Pennsylvania

Social evolutionary systems biology: Studying collective behavior by integrating social evolution theory with sociogenomics -- $50,000

Studying animal collective behavior is important to understanding human societies. While evolutionary theory provides insights, it neglects the molecular mechanisms that regulate behavior. This project will leverage the explosion in genetic data from social species to generate and test new evolutionary theory that incorporates molecular mechanisms that shape collective behavior.


A summary of the conference, "Collective Behavior: From Cells to Societies," will be available online in mid-June at 


Established through a $40 million grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation in 2003, the National Academies Keck Futures Initiative – a program of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine -- is a 15-year effort to enhance communication among researchers, funding agencies, universities, and the general public -- with the objective of stimulating interdisciplinary research at the most exciting frontiers.  The National Academies and the W.M. Keck Foundation believe considerable scientific progress and social benefit will be achieved by providing a counterbalance to the tendency to isolate research within academic fields.  The Futures Initiative is designed to enable researchers from different disciplines to focus on new questions and entirely new research, and to encourage better communication among scientists as well as between the scientific community and the public.  For more information about NAKFI, please visit  For more information about the W.M. Keck Foundation, please visit 



Molly Galvin, Senior Media Officer


Kimberly Suda-Blake, Senior Program Director, National Academies Keck Futures Initiative



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