Symbiosis in Aquatic Systems Initiative by the Moore Foundation

The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation is launching a new area of research, the Symbiosis in Aquatic Systems Initiative. Over the next nine years, the foundation will invest $140 million to support development of new tools, theory and concepts about aquatic symbioses and to bring different research communities together to learn how symbioses involving microorganisms function, evolve and serve critical ecosystem roles in marine and freshwater environments.

Aquatic environments comprise the largest habitat on the planet and have served as an incubator of evolution since life began on Earth almost four billion years ago. Today, these marine and freshwater ecosystems host a substantial proportion of the biodiversity on our planet, yet much of this diversity remains unexplored. As scientists study biology in aquatic environments, they have realized how powerfully the interactions of organisms define their evolutionary history and ecological functions.

The Symbiosis in Aquatic Systems Initiative will advance knowledge of how symbiotic associations function and participate in ecology and evolution in marine and freshwater systems through four strategic approaches:

  1. Invest in technology and resources to enable discovery.
  2. Support scientists and engineers with unrestricted funding to innovate and explore through an investigator program.
  3. Stimulate collaborations of multidisciplinary teams to reduce silos between scientific disciplines and communities.
  4. Build community to create a broader, yet more integrated field.

The Symbiosis in Aquatic Systems Initiative of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation is soliciting pre-applications for investigator awards. Each award will fund research in a single investigator's laboratory. The goal with the awards is to provide scientists with the resources and flexibility to pursue innovative, risky research that has high potential for significant conceptual and methodological advances in aquatic symbiosis. We anticipate investigators will generate new technologies, resources, theory, natural history and hypotheses to spark discovery in understanding aquatic organisms and their symbioses. We envision a vibrant cohort of investigators that serves as a source of ideas for the initiative, collaborates among peers, and moves the community towards a more comprehensive understanding how marine and freshwater organisms interact in symbiotic associations involving microbes.

Pre-application Deadline

June 3, 2019 by 23:59 PDT

Anticipated Notification Date

Applicants will be notified of a decision whether your application will proceed to the next stage by August 1, 2019. At this time, a subset of applicants will be invited to submit a full application for further consideration (due September 16, 2019).

Timeline Overview

  • June 3, 2019 – pre-applications due
  • August 1, 2019 – decision on pre-applications and invitation to subset of applicants to submit full application
  • September 16, 2019 – full applications due
  • November 15, 2019 – finalists notified
  • Late 2019/early 2020 – prospective grant development

Eligibility Requirements

To be eligible for this competition, applicants must:

  • Hold a tenured or tenure-track position (or equivalent) for a minimum of four years, with the first appointment no later than June 3, 2015;
  • Have served as principal investigator on one or more major, competitive research grants (e.g., NSF, NASA, ERC, DFG, Wellcome Trust, Moore Foundation).

Review Criteria

Successful applicants will be among the most outstanding in the research community, regardless of career stage. These applicants will have established a research program supported by at least one major competitively awarded grant and should have a significant or emerging reputation for excellence in their research field. Researchers will be evaluated on the significance of their past research, the quality of their current research, the potential for continued groundbreaking science in the future, and the probability that their future work will contribute to the success of the Moore Foundation’s Symbiosis in Aquatic Systems Initiative. Pre-applications will be screened by foundation staff and external reviewers. A subset of applicants will be invited to submit a full application (August 1, 2019) due on September 16, 2019.

Please refer to the investigator competition FAQs for specific questions regarding the application process. If you have a question not answered in the FAQ document, please reach out to 

This Symbiosis in Aquatic Systems Initiative investigator competition is open to all qualified applicants, regardless of age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, race, national origin, religion or disability. If you have any questions or need assistance or accommodation in completing this application, please contact Alexandra González by emailing or calling 650-213-3121.