Stanford faculty share in $24 million National Science Foundation grant

Sindy Tang
Sindy Tang, Photo by Rod Searcey

Two Stanford faculty are part of an interdisciplinary team of researchers who will share a $24 million Science and Technology Center grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The grant will found a bioengineering research and education center.

The NSF awards Science and Technology grants to long-term projects that incorporate multiple schools, laboratories and industries. They are distributed over a period of five years—with the potential for extension—with the goal of furthering research and education in innovative areas of science and engineering.

The Center for Cellular Construction, which will be located at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), will include researchers from UCSF, San Francisco State University, the University of California, Berkeley, IBM Research – Almaden, and Stanford. The center will also partner with San Francisco State University, City College of San Francisco and the University of California, Santa Cruz to provide undergraduate research internships to students from underrepresented backgrounds. The goal of the center is the “transformation of the field of cell biology into a quantitative discipline” by using engineering, physical science and computational approaches for studying cells.

SINDY TANG, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, said work at this center will reveal how the internal organization of cells determines their behavior. These studies would inform the design of genetically modified cells and multicellular systems. Individual cells could be designed to maximize a certain function. By manipulating their cell structure, for example, researchers at the center hope to improve the yield of biofuel-generating algae.

Tang’s project, called the “Living Bioreactor,” aims to create self-organizing biological systems that create commercial products.

“We are creating a factory line of cells,” Tang said. “An initial input like cellulose is transferred between cells, where each transforms it into a new intermediate product. The final result would be chemical products like methyl halides, which are used in many industrial applications.”

MANU PRAKASH, assistant professor of bioengineering, will also work at the center.