Five universities collaborate to program biological cells to design futuristic materials | UCSB


Megan valentine

Megan Valentine, professor of mechanical engineering and co-director of the California NanoSystems Institute at UC Santa Barbara, received a $ 1.8 million collaborative grant from the National Science Foundation to design and create next-generation materials inspired and enhanced by biological cells.

Valentine will work alongside a team of physicists, biologists and engineers, including four women.

Led by Rae Robertson-Anderson, professor of physics and biophysics at the University of San Diego, the team includes Jennifer Ross of Syracuse University, Moumita Das of the Rochester Institute of Technology, and Michael Rust of the University of Chicago. .

The goal of the collaboration is to create self-directed, programmable and reconfigurable materials – using biological building blocks comprising proteins and cells – capable of producing force and movement. This research could pave the way for future applications of materials ranging from self-propelled materials to programmable micro-robotics, wound healing and dynamic prostheses.

“This project offers an exciting opportunity to combine my group’s expertise in biomaterials and polymer mechanics with advances in synthetic biology to create classes of materials capable of autonomous detection and actuation,” said Valentine.

His research group focuses on how forces are generated and transmitted in living materials, how these forces control cellular outcomes, and how to capture the extraordinary characteristics of living systems in human-made materials. By incorporating bacterial cells capable of timely release of matrix-modifying proteins, Valentine and coworkers will produce materials that can be programmed to accomplish specific tasks.

“Biological materials have unique abilities to adapt, react and learn,” she said. “Through this project, we will develop a fundamental understanding of the design, generation and optimization of materials containing both biological and synthetic components capable of performing complex actions such as lifting and crawling. “

“We are delighted to have the opportunity to continue this line of research which has the power to truly push the boundaries of materials research beyond the current state of the art,” said Robertson-Anderson .

“We will take advantage of the design principles of biological systems to design, study and make available to the public prototypical ‘biotic-abiotic materials’ that combine biological and commercial components to transform, move and function without human intervention,” she declared.

The four-year grant will also allow undergraduates from each partner university to gain hands-on collaborative research experience, mentorship and professional development opportunities.

By the end of the project, the team will have built the framework for their materials design concept, including a small prototype, which can help others advance futuristic materials to accomplish the many processes living systems already perform. transparent way, such as healing and regulation. themselves.


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