NSF Puts Up $25 Million to Research Biological Machines

What would you do with $25 million? If you answered “create a center to research the development of programmable, highly sophisticated biological machines,” we regret to inform you the National Science Foundation and MIT have beaten you to the punch. The Emergent Behaviors of Integrated Cellular Systems Center (EBICS), will not only advance research in the emerging experimental discipline of engineered biological systems, but will lay an extensive educational groundwork for research in the field going forward.

In other words, it appears the NSF thinks this sci-fi-tastic arena is among science’s most promising frontiers. And why not? The implications of advanced biological machines are vast, impacting everything from experimental biology to regenerative medicine to energy and materials sciences.

Though headquartered at MIT, research will also take place at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Georgia Institute of Technology, as well as at various minority-serving academic institutions, as one goal of the grant is to involve groups traditionally underrepresented in scientific research. Working together, the three universities and their partners hope to figure out the best means to create a series of sensors, actuators, processors and the like with architectures rooted in biology, eventually throwing back the curtain on a field of research that has thus far been only lightly explored.

Underscoring its commitment to pushing forward with biological systems research in the long-term, the EBICS initiative will create undergraduate- and graduate-level programs that will seed future growth at this crossroads of engineering in biology. So while EBICS has yet to declare a firm deadline for producing advanced regenerative organs or self-healing materials, the NSF is putting its money on the idea that we can get there if we put our best minds to it.