UCSB Engineering

August 27, 2003

Army Research Office Awards up to $50 Million To UCSB-Led Partnership to Establish Institute for Collaborative Biotechnologies

August 27, 2003


Santa Barbara, Calif.-- The Army Research Office (ARO) is awarding an initial grant of up to $50 million over five years to a partnership among researchers at three universities to establish the Institute for Collaborative Biotechnologies (ICB). The partnership includes the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB), the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). Six industrial partners are also participating by developing the technologies being created in the university laboratories.

Jim Chang, ARO director, said, "Our aim in setting up this Institute for Collaborative Biotechnologies is to improve dramatically the effectiveness of the Army by creating a single conduit for developing, assessing and adapting new products and new biotechnologies in direct support of the Army's mission. We are enabling a focus for biotechnology research which is advantageous to the Army and which also leverages, on the Army's behalf, investments in biotechnology research by government research funding agencies such as the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health."

UCSB Chancellor Henry Yang said, "We are delighted to be part of such a strong team with our partners at Caltech and MIT and in industry. At Santa Barbara we have been excited for some time about the emerging potential for research discoveries at the interface between biological sciences and physical and engineering sciences. This project will give scientists and engineers at the three institutions and their industrial collaborators an extraordinary opportunity to conduct research at that interface and at the forefront of new biotechnology."

Daniel Morse, chair of the UCSB Biomolecular Science and Engineering Program and a professor of molecular genetics and biochemistry, will serve as director of the new institute. Frank Doyle, a UCSB chemical engineering professor who holds the Duncan and Suzanne Mellichamp Chair in Process Control, will serve as ICB associate director. The MIT team is headed by Angela Belcher, the John Chipman Associate Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and Biological Engineering. At Caltech the effort is led by David Tirrell, the Ross McCollum-William H. Corcoran Professor and chair of the Chemistry and Chemical Engineering Division.

To date the industrial partners are Aerospace Corp., Applied Biosystems, Becton-Dickinson, Genencor International, IBM, and SAIC.

Robert Campbell, the ARO program officer for the ICB grant, said, "The inspiration for the ICB comes from the fact that biology uses precise mechanisms to produce exquisitely structured materials, and that coordination of biological function at the molecular, cellular and systems level takes place by remarkably effective communication and information transfer. The promise here is for providing unique enabling technology for more advanced integrated circuits for high-performance sensing, computing and information processing, and actuation than are used in existing manufacturing. This synthesis of high performance materials is accomplished with a precision of nanoscale-architectural control that exceeds the capability of current engineering, particularly in the designing and sculpting of materials in three-dimensions. Likewise, the integration of component function in biological systems is astonishing, so the lessons learned here are sure to have strong impact on engineered information processing systems integration as well.

"The idea is to understand biological mechanisms and to harness them for design and fabrication of new materials, devices and systems performance to equip the Army of the 21st century. But the benefit to the United States is more than military. The for-profit industrial partners have the opportunity and the incentive to translate to the civilian marketplace the fruits of the research findings. A thriving U.S. economy is essential to the country's defense as is a well-equipped Army," said Campbell.

Morse points out that the synthesis of materials in biology necessarily occurs under conditions amenable to life in contrast to many present manufacturing processes, which entail extraordinary conditions of temperature or deleterious chemicals or a sterile environment.

Morse is well known for discoveries that helped inaugurate the emerging field of nano-biomolecular and biomimetic materials synthesis that is illustrative of the new Institute's research direction. One example is the lessons for semiconductor fabrication learned from a marine sponge.

Silicon is an element like carbon that does not exist in nature in its free form, but is normally present in rocks as silica (i.e., sand in one form, glass in another). The rocks are melted and milled to extract the silicon that is then made into computer chips or incorporated into silicon-based polymers analogous to the more familiar carbon-based polymers. Silicon-the prime constituent of the computer chip and the preeminent element of the information age-behaves like carbon in the way its atoms connect.

Morse and his colleagues discovered that the fiberglass silica needles of a marine sponge are made via a protein, which acts as both an enzyme-catalyst and a template for growth. That discovery has now been adapted to make non-biological semiconducting and photovoltaic materials.

Said Morse, "Our research shows that biomolecular recognition and enzymatic catalysis, which evolved over millennia for the world of carbon-based materials, can be harnessed and used productively with silicon-based materials. One of ICB's missions is to take advantage of alternative pathways for synthesis that have been honed by millennia of selection.

"Our team includes the world's leaders in the discoveries of these underlying molecular mechanisms in nano-bio-fabrication," said Morse. "Our aim is to integrate work at the three campuses in a seamless way so that we can increase the rate of productivity of discoveries and transition prototype development with our industrial partners.

"The teams at UCSB, MIT, and Caltech are recognized for developing a uniquely interdisciplinary approach to this kind of research--uniting researchers from multiple departments and programs into a single working unit without disciplinary borders," Morse said. "At UCSB both the dean of engineering, Matthew Tirrell, and the dean of science, Martin Moskovits, have been integral and essential to the process of envisioning the Institute for Collaborative Biotechnologies."

MIT's Belcher is known for nano-biotechnology research that began with a path-breaking experiment that engineered the binding of a biological material--peptides (short chains of amino acids)--to inorganic semiconducting materials. The Belcher group selects and evolves biological organisms to grow and assemble semiconductor and magnetic materials using environmentally friendly synthesis routes. These organisms are further engineered to form liquid crystals for display technology and as components for self-assembling electronics.

This strategy for "bottom-up" fabrication, atom by atom in imitation of nature, contrasts with the current "top-down" practice via subtraction from a bulk material to make a chip. The bottom-up approach enables the assembly of particles into an electronic structure, which can consist of layers of different semiconducting materials or different phases of the same material or some combination of both.

At Caltech David Tirrell has gained wide recognition for a series of experiments showing that the molecular recognition of the cell's protein synthesis machinery can be tricked to overlook subtle modifications introduced in the laboratory. The techniques have enabled his research group to engineer proteins with new structures and functions. The resultant semi-synthetic proteins and their newly incorporated atoms provide new functionality including controlled mechanical properties and enhanced thermal and chemical stability.

The research plan for the Institute for Collaborative Biotechnologies will be organized around three emphases:

(1) Sensors, Electronics and Information Processing, led by UCSB Chemistry and Materials Professor Guillermo Bazan. Research will focus on the development of sensors using biological molecules and paradigms for sensing with unprecedented sensitivity, accuracy, and speed and the translation of information from sensors into electronic information for real-time sensing and response capabilities.

(2) Biotechnological and Biologically Inspired Routes to Electronic, Optical and Magnetic Materials, led by Morse. Research will investigate the use of biological mechanisms and biomolecular mechanisms to control nanofabrication of new materials for electronic, optical, and optoelectronic activity, including new approaches to the generation of electrical energy and portable sources of energy such as would be carried for defense applications.

(3) Biotechnological and Biologically Inspired New Routes to Information Professing, led by UCSB Physics and Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor David Awschalom and Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Evelyn Hu. Research seeks to use biological systems to guide the development of new routes for information processing. Molecular signaling and recognition and integration of information will be considered from both the perspective of the small world of molecules but also from the macroscopic perspective of ecosystems. Awschalom heads the UCSB Center for Spintronics and Quantum Computing. Hu is UCSB's science director for the California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI), whose state-of the-art research facilities, nearing the construction phase, will greatly enhance the ability of ICB researchers at UCSB to advance their cross-disciplinary research agendas.

Three complementary emphases focus on technical foundations related to the research plan. The first two pertain to "tools for discovery"--the technical investigations and advances that enable research in the topical areas above:

(1) Discovery, Synthesis and Delivery, led by UCSB Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering Patrick Daugherty, will provide a discovery pipeline for the development of innovative sensor concepts, integration and self-assembly methods, signal generation and processing.

(2) Materials and Device Characterization Over Multiple Length and Time Scales, led by UCSB Chemical Engineering Professor Brad Chmelka, will advance the existing state-of-the-art in several molecular techniques and macroscopic imaging and characterization strategies needed to evaluate and advance the performance of new molecular biomagnetic/bioelectronic materials and devices.

(3) Complex Multi-Scale Dynamic and Predictive Modeling, led by Doyle, will address the analysis and mathematical modeling of multiple-scale (gene-cell-system) complex biological phenomena and materials behavior using principles of systems biology.


[Note: Professor Morse can be reached at 805-893-3157 or -3416 and by e-mail at d_morse@lifesci.ucsb.edu; Professor Belcher at 617-324-2800 and belcher@mit.edu; and Professor David Tirrell at 626-395-3140 and tirrell@caltech.edu. Dr. Campbell is available at 919-549-4230, campbell@aro.arl.army.mil.]

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