Field of Science

Bad news from CIHR

Yesterday I got the review and scores for our DNA uptake grant proposal - not nearly as good as I'd hoped. It only made the 51st percentile, which means it won't get funded.

The reviewers said some good things. They thought it was very well written (as it was). They liked the mix of risky and safe projects.

Some of the reviewers' concerns were very reasonable: the mass- spec bit lacked details that would make it credible (we've no experience); the basic cross-species complementation should have been tested; the search for a pilT homolog should have been completed; why continue to look for pili when they're not seen in EM. They also want more justification of the personnel budget. These problems can easily be addressed in the resubmission (due March 1).

Others mainly asked for better explanation of significance. Why study DNA uptake in H. influenzae when we already have information about uptake by Neisseria and Bacillus? What will we learn from the optical tweezers experiments? I thought we had done a really good job of explaining this, but I guess I thought wrong.

A bigger concern was the reviewers' general lack of enthusiasm, which I suspect may also account for several unfounded criticisms. One reviewer wondered why we were going to look at binding of Neisseria pili to DNA, when we had clearly stated that this was just a positive control. Another said that the optical tweezers experiments had already been done for Neisseria and Myxococcus, when in fact these had only looked at pilus retraction, not DNA uptake. If we had managed to create more enthusiasm, maybe the reviewers would have more carefully checked whether these criticisms were valid.

CIHR includes a 'community reviewer' for each proposal. These are interested members of the general public - they usually read only the lay summary. The community reviewer of the previous submission (3 years ago) complained that the lay summary hadn't included the name of the organism, so this time I made a point of naming Haemophilus influenzae, clearly explaining that it was a bacterium that causes respiratory diseases. But the reviewer of this proposal nevertheless complains that the name misled them into thinking this proposal was about influenza, and recommends that we don't give any species names!

We're going to try to get a revised version done by the end of January, so we can take advantage of UBC's internal review option.

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