Bioengineering transformed medicine in the last century by applying engineering principles and methods to solve biomedical problems. But engineering, biology, medicine, and the physical sciences are currently undergoing a paradigm shift. Owing to recent revolutionary advances in each of these fields, they are beginning to converge in unexpected ways. Developments in nanotechnology, genetics, and cell engineering now allow us to manipulate individual atoms, genes, molecules, and cells one at a time, and to create artificial biological systems. At the same time, progress in materials science, stem cell biology, and tissue engineering enables scientists to use synthetic materials, microdevices, and computational strategies to manipulate cell function, guide tissue formation, and control complex organ physiology. As a result, the boundary between living and non-living systems is beginning to break down.
These developments have led to the emergence of the new field of 'Biologically Inspired Engineering,' which is the culmination of this unification of life sciences with engineering and physical sciences that is leading to an ever deeper understanding of how life works. Biologically Inspired Engineering applies biological principles to develop new engineering solutions for medicine, as well as for non-medical fields never before touched by the biology revolution. Insights into how living systems form and function using self-assembling nanomaterials, complex networks, non-linear dynamical control, and self-organizing behavior may lead to entirely new engineering principles that will feed back to produce revolutionary change in many fields of human endeavor. At the Wyss, we focus on the following three core research areas that comprise this newly emerging field of bioinspired engineering:
Research in Biological Control combines biology, engineering, physics, and computer science to decipher how living cells and organisms control complex behaviors through collective interactions among large numbers of components. Understanding the governing principles behind biological control will lead to new approaches for restoring physiological functions disrupted by disease and aging. It will also enable new strategies for engineering robots that build and work collectively like living cells.
Living Materials researchers seek to discover how Nature builds living systems with properties not found in manmade materials. Understanding how molecules assemble into cells and cells into tissues and organs will lead to new ways to promote healing and regeneration. Development of biomimetic materials that combine multiple functions in one, like living systems, will also provide entirely new ways to meet challenges in industry, construction, energy, and environmental control.
Synthetic Biology refers to the fabrication of biological structures that are built from the bottom up using molecular parts. Institute researchers use genetic engineering and nanotechnology to engineer molecules that self-assemble into desired shapes with programmable functions to create biological regulatory circuits for cell reprogramming and to engineer living cellular devices.