Cellular Engineering - overview
Cellular Engineering is a new scientific discipline which aims at transforming the field of cell biology into a quantitative discipline adapting tools from engineering, the physical sciences, and computer science to design automated machines out of living cells.
This project is concentrated around the newly founded Center for Cellular Construction, an NSF-funded Science and Technology Center based at UC San Francisco. This effort involves researchers from IBM Almaden Research Center, UC San Francisco, UC Berkeley, Stanford University, SF State University, and the SF Exploratorium.
The relationship between cellular morphology and cellular state and function is evident, but not yet completely understood from a mechanistic standpoint. Uncovering the rules of cellular self assembly has the potential of translating to real world applications in many fields of science and technology, from environmental sensing, to industrial strain design, to therapeutic.
Research in IBM focuses on advanced image analysis tools, novel instrumentation, mathematical and physical modeling of cellular behavior, and the adoption of artificial intelligence and machine learning tools. Moreover, IBM researchers will investigate the use of collaborative tools to foster and advance innovation and discovery in the Center
The center is organized around five research projects:
The Cellular Machine Shop will develop and build cell engineering tools such as high capacity imaging systems and gene synthesis and sequencing tools.
Computer Aided Design (CAD) will focus on building a computational platform that gives researchers the ability to virtually model individual cells and multicellular structures. The goal is to provide cellular engineers with a tool that is similar to the CAD programs that are frequently used by engineers in the physical sciences.
Multicellular Engineering is devoted to creating tools at the molecular level that allow cellular engineers to combine individual cells into multicellular units that are designed to solve specific problems.
The Living Bioreactor project is focused on designing cells that can efficiently produce needed substances like drugs or biofuels in environments that may be unfriendly to naturally occurring cellular organisms.
The Cell State Inference Engine aims to develop advanced image analysis software that will enable engineered cells to serve as biosensors that can monitor the environment and act as cellular "canaries in a coal mine" that will give advance warning before toxic conditions become life or health threatening.