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July 2015

Enhancing fetal and intensive care monitoring via "data chromatix"

Analysis of biomedical time series, such as heart rate, plays an essential role in acute clinical management. A team led by Wyss Core Faculty member Ary Goldberger has developed a novel colorization method to bring information, or "memory" of a physiologic system’s past behavior into the display window being viewed by bedside clinicians. Reported in Physiological Measurement, this new approach is intended to enhance medical situational awareness. Learn more...



A jump for soft-bodied robots

In a recent Science publication, Wyss Core Faculty members Rob Wood and George Whitesides describe development of the first-ever 3D printed autonomous jumping robot. Inspired by the strength of natural materials seen in many animal and insect bodies, this novel fabrication method enabled construction of a robot with a seamless stiffness gradient from its rigid core to its soft exterior, making it more robust than ever before. Read press release...



June 2015

Reenergizing antibiotics in the war against infections

antibiotic efficacy

In a new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a team at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering led by Wyss Core Faculty member James Collins, pinpoints a critical differentiator that separates the effects of bactericidal and bacteriostatic antibiotics: cellular respiration. This metabolic process uses oxygen under aerobic conditions to convert energy stored in nutrients into ATP, the main energy currency used by all cells. Read press release...



Strategic collaboration to improve drug design


Wyss start-up Emulate Inc. has announced a collaboration with Johnson & Johnson Innovation to use the organs-on-chips platform to better predict human response in the drug development process. Organs-on-chips was invented at the Wyss Institute by Founding Director Don Ingber and former Wyss Technology Development Fellow Dan Huh. Read press release...




Energizing the power of evaporation

antibiotic efficacy

Scientists have struggled to harness the power of evaporation for purposes such as energy production or water conservation. But now, findings from the Wyss Institute about the mechanical properties of bacterial spores have contributed to new ideas about how these tiny spores could have a big impact on energy and water management. Watch video...



Major advance for slippery surfaces

Wyss Institute Core Faculty member Joanna Aizenberg and her team is paving the way towards designer polymers that are capable of self-relubrication and long-lasting anti-fouling behavior. Reported in Nature Materials, the system represents a major step forward in the design of self-healing materials, which could be used to improve drug delivery systems through enhanced targeting and controlled release. Read more...



Organs-on-Chips return to the TEDx stage

At TEDxPenn, former Wyss Institute postdoctoral fellow Dan Huh talks about how human organs-on-chips invented at the Wyss Institute may allow bioengineers to circumvent the long-standing economical and ethical challenges that revolve around the current model of drug development. Watch...



Re-booting the human gut

New work is underway by Wyss Institute scientists to genetically engineer bacterial microbes so that they can be used to detect and treat gastrointestinal illnesses. A new grant awarded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency for up to $4.7 million dollars over the course of the work, will support the efforts of co-principal investigators Wyss Core Faculty member Pamela Silver, Wyss Senior Staff Scientist Jeffrey Way, and Wyss Founding Director Don Ingber.  Read press release...


Rethinking aging and life span

A new computer model developed by Wyss Senior Research Scientist Justin Werfel, Wyss Institute Founding Director Don Ingber and President of the New England Complex Systems Institute Yaneer Bar-Yam, demonstrates an advantage for genetically programmed shortened life spans in the evolution of species. Published in Physical Review Journal, the results show that limited lifespan can be detrimental to an individual in the short term but beneficial to its far descendants, conferring an advantage to the whole species in the long run. Read press release...


Setting the circadian clock

Reported in Science Advances, the first transplant of a circadian rhythm into a non-circadian species has been achieved by Wyss Core Faculty member Pam Silver. By taking the protein circuit that regulates circadian rhythm from cyanobacteria and transplanting it into common E. coli bacteria, and then linking that circuit to a fluorescent protein, Silver's team was able to observe the E. coli glowing rhythmically throughout the circadian day-night cycle. Read press release...




Translation is within grasp for the soft robotic glove

soft robotic glove

Having achieved promising results in proof–of–concept prototyping and experimental testing, a soft robotic glove under development by soft wearable robotics expert Conor Walsh, Ph.D., and a team of engineers at the Wyss Institute and Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) could some day help people suffering from loss of hand motor control to regain some of their daily independence. Read press release...



May 2015

Civilian drones of the future

The age of small autonomous drones is upon us – with great potential for impact on many aspects of civilian life. One day soon, small drones that can maneuver complex environments while also in close proximity to people could be put to work monitoring farm crops, surveying refugee camps to assess aid efforts, and delivering goods in areas that lack road networks and transportation infrastructures. Wyss Institute Core Faculty member Rob Wood has co-authored a new article in Nature with a five-year outlook on what progress needs to be made before drones can become widely adopted for numerous civilian uses, such as monitoring oil pipelines or delivering goods to remote locations. Read more...



Organs-on-Chips are recognized as Product Design of the Year

The Wyss Institute's human organs–on–chips, represented by the human lung, gut and liver chips, have won the 2015 Designs of the Year Awards prize in the best Product design category. The annual awards and museum exhibition by the Design Museum in London recognizes the most innovative, high–impact, and forward–thinking designs from across the world. Read press release...




Introducing the Wyss podcast

In the new Wyss podcast series, Disruptive, radio host Terrence McNally speaks with Institute researchers, exploring what motivates them and how they envision our future as it might be impacted by their disruptive technologies. In this inaugural episode, Wyss Core Faculty Pam Silver and George Church discuss the high-impact benefits of their synthetic biology work, as well as how they manage potential unintended consequences. Listen and subscribe on Soundcloud...




Springing into action: Wyss Institute introduces new biosafety process

The Wyss Institute is developing a proactive biosafety process to review all proposed biotechnology research and manage potential risks pre-emptively, thereby ensuring the appropriate controls are in place throughout all experiments. Intended for use now and in the future, the Institute’s working model is wide enough in scope to accommodate and prepare for future novel technologies. Read press release...




A practical gel that simply “clicks” for biomedical applications

alginate hydrogel

Wyss Core Faculty member Neel Joshi, has developed a novel, truly biocompatible alginate hydrogel in collaboration with Wyss Core Faculty member David Mooney that can be synthesized using "click chemistry", which is a methodology for the quick and practical synthesis of substances using just a few reliable, chemoselective reagents. Joshi and Mooney's new "click alginate" is reported in the May 1 issue of BiomaterialsRead more...



April 2015

Deep sea sponges could inspire stronger structures

sea sponges

New insights into the skeletal formation of a glass sponge species, uncovered by Wyss Core Faculty member Joanna Aizenberg, reveal that the secret to strong, fracture-resistant structures could be a specialized, concentric layering of materials around a solid core. Read more...





Soft bracing technology could reduce NFL knee injuries

soft bracing technology

A promising effort to prevent knee injuries is underway by Wyss Core Faculty member Conor Walsh, Ph.D., who has been awarded a $150,000 pilot study grant from the Football Players Health Study at Harvard University to develop a prototype, protective knee brace constructed from soft materials. Walsh, who is also Assistant Professor of Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering at Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Science and the founder of the Harvard Biodesign Lab, was recently recognized with a National Science Foundation CAREER award for his pioneering work in the field of soft wearable robotics and functional materials. Read more...



March 2015

A more efficient way to sort molecules from fluid mixtures

Employing an ingenious microfluidic design that combines chemical and mechanical properties, a team of Harvard scientists led by Wyss Institute Core Faculty member Joanna Aizenberg has demonstrated a new way of detecting and extracting biomolecules from fluid mixtures. The approach requires fewer steps, uses less energy, and achieves better performance than several techniques currently in use and could lead to better technologies for medical diagnostics and chemical purification. Read more...


New study reveals certain pesticides might affect fish and amphibians

A component of insect and shrimp exoskeletons, chitin, has long been a target of growth-inhibiting pesticides due to the belief that it did not exist in vertebrates. Now, research at the Wyss has helped discover chitin in fish and amphibians, calling the ecological and environmental impacts of chitin-inhibiting pesticides into question. Watch video...




Fluid–filled pores separate materials with fine precision

fluid gate

A team of Harvard scientists led by Joanna Aizenberg, Ph.D., a Core Faculty member at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University and the Amy Smith Berylson Professor of Materials Science at Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), has developed an entirely new, highly versatile mechanism for controlling passage of materials through micropores, using fluid to modulate their opening and closing. Aizenberg, who is also Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology in Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences and Co-Director of the Kavli Institute for Bionano Science and Technology, calls the new system a "fluid–based gating mechanism." The work is reported in the March 5 issue of NatureRead press release...


Wyss Institute's Organs-on-Chips acquired by Museum of Modern Art

MoMA Exhibit

Samples of the Wyss Institute's Human Organs–on–Chips were formally acquired by The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) of New York City on March 2, 2015, and are on display in MoMA's latest Architecture and Design Exhibition, "This Is For Everyone: Design For The Common Good", until January 2016. The human organs–on–chips were recognized by Paola Antonelli, the museum's senior curator in the Department of Architecture and Design, for their state–of–the–art design and rendering which allows them to emulate complex human organ structures and functions using a combination of living cells and mechanical components encased in a flexible translucent polymer fabricated using computer microchip manufacturing methods. Read press release...


Activating genes on demand

genes on demand

A new approach developed by Harvard geneticist and Wyss Institute Core Faculty member George Church, Ph.D., can help uncover how tandem gene circuits dictate life processes, such as the healthy development of tissue or the triggering of a particular disease, and can also be used for directing precision stem cell differentiation for regenerative medicine and growing organ transplants. Read press release...


February 2015

Color-changing mollusk shell reveals secrets of natural optical structures

color-changing mollusk

A materials research team co-led by Wyss Institute Core Faculty member Joanna Aizenberg has identified optical structures in a mollusk shell that could help develop translucent screens capable of displaying color patterns. The findings, reported this week in the journal Nature Communications, represent the first evidence of an organism using mineralized structural components to produce optical displays. Read more...



Human organs–on–chips nominated for Design of the Year 2015


The annual awards and corresponding exhibition at the London Design Museum honor the world's most forward-thinking and innovative designs. Organs-on-chips are nominated in the Product category, for which they have been recognized for their potential ability to deliver transformative changes to human health and pharmaceutical care. Read press release...




Novel non-stick material joins portfolio of slippery surface technologies

liquid-infused polymers

A new study reported in the inaugural issue of ACS Biomaterials Science and Engineering demonstrates a powerful, long–lasting repellent surface technology that can be used with medical materials to prevent infections caused by biofilms.The new approach, which its inventors are calling "liquid–infused polymers", joins an arsenal of slippery surface coatings that have been developed at Harvard's Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS). Read press release...


"Bionic leaf" uses bacteria to convert solar energy into liquid fuel

bionic leaf

Now scientists from a team spanning Harvard University's Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard Medical School and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University have created a system that uses bacteria to convert solar energy into a liquid fuel. Their work integrates an "artificial leaf" which uses a catalyst to make sunlight split water into hydrogen and oxygen, with a bacterium engineered to convert carbon dioxide plus hydrogen into the liquid fuel isopropanol. Read press release...





Tooth research at the cutting edge

Weaver tooth research

In a Perspective Article in Science, James C. Weaver from the Wyss Institute and Yael Politi from the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces describe new research on sub-nanometer resolution 3D elemental mapping of mineral phases in vertebrate tooth enamel and the mechanical consequences of these discoveries. Read article...





Protecting the atmosphere from power plant emissions

baking soda captures carbon

Wyss Institute Core Faculty Member Jennifer Lewis and her team have developed a breakthrough approach that uses the environmentally benign kitchen-grade baking soda to capture carbon at high rates. The work is described in Nature CommunicationsRead more...





January 2015

DNA nanoswitches reveal how life's molecules connect

DNA Nanoswitches

A new approach developed by a team of researchers at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and Harvard Medical School led by Wyss Institute Associate Faculty member Wesley Wong promises a much faster and more affordable way to examine bio–molecular behavior, opening the door for scientists in virtually any laboratory world–wide to join the quest for creating better drugs. The findings are published in February's issue of Nature MethodsRead press release...


Animal contraceptive vaccine could reduce euthanasia in shelters


Wyss Institute Core Faculty member David Mooney has received a three-year grant totaling more than $700,000 from the Michelson Found Animals Foundation to pursue the development of a nonsurgical alternative to spaying and neutering animals. Read press release...





December 2014

Bacteria colonies could replace chemical factories

E. coli

Scientists led by Wyss Institute Core Faculty member George Church have engineered super-productive bacteria colonies that pump out chemicals faster than ever using “survival of the fittest” evolutionary tactics. As reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the scientists modified the genes of bacteria in such a way that they can now program exactly what chemical they want the cells to produce through their metabolic processes, and how much of it. This advance has implications for pharmaceutical, biofuel, and renewable chemical production. Read press release...


Injectable 3D vaccines to fight cancer

Injectable 3D vaccines

One of the reasons cancer is so deadly is that it can evade attack from the body's immune system, which allows tumors to flourish and spread. Scientists can try to induce the immune system, known as immunotherapy, to go into attack mode to fight cancer and to build long lasting immune resistance to cancer cells. Now, a team at the Wyss Institute led by Core Faculty member David Mooney show a non-surgical injection of programmable biomaterial that spontaneously assembles in vivo into a 3D structure could fight and even help prevent cancer and also infectious disease such as HIV. Their findings are reported in Nature Biotechnology. Read press release...


Towards more predictive stem cell engineering

Deconstructing pluripotency

By using powerful new single–cell genetic profiling techniques, scientists at the Wyss Institute and Boston Children's Hospital including Core Faculty member James Collins have uncovered far more variation in pluripotent stem cells than was previously appreciated. The findings, reported in Nature, bring researchers closer to a day when many different kinds of stem cells could be leveraged for disease therapy and regenerative treatments.  Read press release...



November 2014

Genome editing technology licensed


Together with the Broad Institute and MIT, Harvard University has licensed the CRISPR-Cas9 technology to Editas Medicine for the development of human therapeutic applications. Developed by a team of researchers led by Wyss Institute Core Faculty member and pioneer in personal genomics George Church, the CRISPR-Cas9 system allows the insertion, replacement, and regulation of targeted genes in higher organisms. This technology could lay the groundwork for treating a broad range of diseases including hemophilia and HIV. Read press release...


Computer model to advance drug discovery

Computer model to advance drug discovery

A major challenge faced by the pharmaceutical industry has been how to rationally design and select protein molecules to create effective biologic drug therapies while reducing unintended side effects — a challenge that has largely been addressed through costly guess–and–check experiments. Reported in Biophysical Journal, a team of Wyss Institute researchers led by Core Faculty member Pam Silver have developed a new computational model to precisely predict biologic drug behavior, enabling better therapeutic drug design while reducing undesirable side effects. Read press release...


Bringing translation to the forefront of scientific mindset

Biomedical translation

Wyss Core Faculty member David Mooney and Associate Faculty member Georg Duda published the first in a collection of articles in Science Translational Medicine that emphasize the most important themes from the Translate! 2014 meeting in Berlin last month. The commentary describes a more effective model of biomedical translation that requires interactive and collaborative industrial partnerships at early stages of scientific discovery to help frame commercialization as the ultimate goal rather than an afterthought. Read article...


October 2014

'SLIPS' company launched


Developed at the Wyss Institute, an ultra-slippery coating that repels virtually all liquids and solids will be made available for a wide range of custom commercial applications through a newly formed private company, SLIPS Technologies, Inc. SLIPS was inspired by the pitcher plant, which has pitcher-shaped leaves that become so slippery, insects cannot escape sliding down the leaves into the plant's digestive juices. Read press release...




Vibrating shoe insoles improve gait, balance in elderly


A new study by Hebrew SeniorLife testing devices designed at the Wyss Institute shows vibrating insoles could help reduce falls in elderly people by using the principle of stochastic resonance to reduce balance issues and walking variability. Read press release...






Double take: "synthetic" synthetic biology

paper based diagnostic

Two Wyss teams led by Core Faculty members James Collins and Peng Yin clench two breakthroughs that could stand alone or double up to allow for complex, de-novo-designed diagnostic and therapeutic gene circuits to be delivered on pocket-sized slips of paper. Read press release...





Ambitious DNA crystal designs realized

DNA crystals

Wyss Institute Core Faculty members Peng Yin and William Shih have manufactured the first large DNA crystals with prescribed depths and complex features, which are more than 1,000 times larger than particles they have already successfully built using programmable, self-assembling DNA nanotechnology. Read press release...





Molecular probe tracks cellular forces

new molecular probe

Multi-institutional collaborators, led by Wyss Institute Associate Faculty Member Christopher Chen, developed a new probe that uses hairpin-shaped, single-strand DNA to detect how much force cells exert on their environment. Measuring cell traction forces is key to understanding how cells signal biological processes ranging from fundamental cell division to embryonic development. Read press release...




Novel coating repels blood, bacteria in medical devices

TLP coating

A multidisciplinary team led by Wyss Institute Founding Director Don Ingber and Core Faculty Member Joanna Aizenberg have used FDA-approved materials to develop a surface coating that can be applied to medical devices to prevent blood clotting and bacteria infection. Read press release...





Nano-foundries made of stiff DNA sequences

DNA casting

A general strategy to fabricate metal and other inorganic nanoparticles from self-assembling DNA “molds” has been developed by Wyss Institute Core Faculty member Peng Yin and his team. As reported in Science, the ability to mold inorganic nanoparticles out of materials such as gold and silver in precisely designed 3D shapes is a significant breakthrough that has the potential to advance disease detection, electronics, solar cell technology and more. Read press release...



September 2014

Mimicking asthma-on-a-chip


A team led by Wyss Institute Core Faculty member Kit Parker have developed an airway muscle-on-a-chip that accurately mimics the way smooth muscle contracts in the human airway both under normal circumstances and when exposed to asthma triggers. The chip could be used to test new drugs and may pave the way for patient-specific asthma treatments. Read press release...




Diabetes: complexity lost

dynamical glucometry

A group of researchers including Wyss Core Faculty member Ary Goldberger have discovered a novel way of looking at information hidden in blood sugar readings. The approach, “dynamical glucometry,” reveals that the encoded information is much more complex in healthy human systems compared to people with diabetes. This discovery suggests that complex physiology may allow for higher levels of adaptability, helping healthy people survive. If this is true for diabetes, then dynamical glucometry could lead to new treatments designed to restore the complexity of the body’s fuel regulation system. Read more on Science Daily...


Soft robotics 'toolkit' features everything a robot-maker needs

soft robotics toolkit

A team led by Wyss Institute Core Faculty member George Whitesides, Rob Rood, and Conor Walsh have developed an online resource for sharing design approaches, techniques, and technical knowledge to stimulate the creation of novel soft devices, tools, and methods. The toolkit provides both experienced and aspiring researchers with the intellectual raw materials needed to design, build, and operate robots made from soft, flexible materials. Read press release...




Soft Exosuit powers along

Soft Exosuit

Wyss Institute Core Faculty member Conor Walsh and his team have been awarded a DARPA contract to further develop the biologically inspired Soft Exosuit - a wearable robot made from lightweight and flexible materials. The device is intended to be worn comfortably under clothing and could enable soldiers to walk longer distances, keep fatigue at bay, and minimize the risk of injury when carrying heavy loads. Alternative versions of the suit could eventually assist those with limited mobility as well. Read press release...



Breaking the mold of biofilms


A team led by Wyss Institute Core Faculty member Neel Joshi report in Nature Communication their foundational work using bacterial biofilms for the production of new self-healing materials and bioprocessing technologies. In short, they want to give biofilms a facelift, and have developed a novel protein engineering system called BIND to do so. Using BIND, which stands for Biofilm-Integrated Nanofiber Display, the team said biofilms could be tomorrow's living foundries for the large-scale production of biomaterials that can be programmed to provide functions not possible with existing materials. Read press release...



New bioinspired approach to sepsis therapy


A team led by Wyss Institute Founding Director Don Ingber, Senior Staff Scientist Mike Super and Technology Development Fellow Joo Kang have designed a novel device inspired by the spleen that quickly filters bacteria, fungi and other toxins from blood. The device, called a "biospleen," exceeded the team's expectations with its ability to cleanse human blood tested in the laboratory and increase survival in animals with infected blood, as reported in Nature Medicine. Read press release...



August 2014

Self-folding robot walks away

self-folding robot

Team led by Wyss Institute Core Faculty member Rob Wood has developed a robot that folds itself up and walks away without any human interaction. The advanced, described in Science, demonstrates the potential to quickly and cheaply build sophisticated machines that interact with the environment, and to automate much of the design and assembly process. Read press release...




New roadmap to guide stem cell medicine


Wyss Institute Core Faculty member Jim Collins with collaborators at Boston Children's Hospital and the Mayo Clinic introduce CellNet, a computational platform available as an internet resource for any scientist to use that helps evaluate and assess the quality of engineered cells. This can help ensure that the cells engineered in the lab would have the same favorable properties as cells in our own bodies. CellNet and its application to stem cell engineering are described in two back-to-back papers in the August 14 issue of Cell. Read press release...


A self-organizing thousand-robot swarm


A team led by Wyss Institute Core Faculty member Radhika Nagpal have assembled the first thousand-robot flash mob. The Kilobots demonstrate how complexity can arise from very simple behaviors performed en masse. "The beauty of biological systems is that they are elegantly simple--and yet, in large numbers, accomplish the seemingly impossible," said Nagpal. "At some level you no longer even see the individuals; you just see the collective as an entity to itself."  Read press release...


How we fight cancer

Wyss Cancer Vaccine

A new animation explains how the Wyss Institute cancer vaccine technology developed in collaboration with biologists, clinicians and researchers at the Institute, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences works by reprogramming the immune system to reject cancer cells. Watch on Vimeo...



Dynamic daylight control system

Dynamic daylight control system

Researchers at the Wyss Institute and the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD) have jointly developed a unique and flexible approach to dynamically redirecting daylight to maximize the daylight autonomy and save energy. This video shows a shoebox model of the novel Dynamic Daylight Redirection System. Read the full story or learn more about the technology.


How the brain gets its folds


A team led by Wyss Institute Core Faculty member L. Mahadevan used numerical simulations and a physical gel model to answer an age-old question that has vexed scientists for years: how did the outer layer of the mammalian brain (gray matter) become so convoluted atop the brain’s inner white matter? It turns out that at the heart of the brain matter is a relatively simple mechanical instability whereby the gray matter is constrained by the white matter, which leads to the characteristic folds and crevasses. The results, published in PNAS, help scientists better understand anomalies in brain development that lead to loss of function and disease. Watch on Vimeo...


Refilling drug delivery depots

Dave Mooney

Drug depots are polymers that release a continuous supply of therapeutic drugs to fight disease. Once injected or implanted, they are usually a one-shot deal -- but a team led by Wyss Institute Core Faculty member David Mooney just reported a noninvasive way to refill them. The method, reported in PNAS, harnesses the specific binding power of nucleic acids to refill drug depots through the blood. The team demonstrated the proof-of-concept using alginate hydrogels that were modified to include a specific nucleic acid sequence that bound to the complementary sequence attached to alginate strands loaded with the drug payload. The advance could represent a new paradigm for noninvasive drug delivery in cancer therapy, wound healing treatments, and more – and it builds on previous work by Mooney’s team on noninvasive drug delivery. View publication...


July 2014

Technology translation engine launches 'Organs-on-Chips' company

organs on chips

The Wyss Institute announced the launch of a newly formed private company, Emulate, Inc., to accelerate development of pharmaceutical, chemical, cosmetic, and personalized medicine products through its human organs-on-chips lead technology. This achievement demonstrates the success of the Institute’s unique model to facilitate translation of technologies from bench top to the marketplace. Read press release...



NanoString Technologies, Inc. licenses Wyss Institute hybridization probe technology

ultraspecific hybridization probe

US based company will utilize a novel ultraspecific hybridization probe technology developed by Wyss Institute Core Faculty member Peng Yin and David Zhang, former Postdoctoral Fellow at the Wyss Institute and Ted Law Jr. Assistant Professor of Bioengineering at Rice University to bolster a portfolio of validated tools for cancer research and personalized medicine. Read more...


New genome editing strategy


Cross-disciplinary team led by Wyss Institute Technology Development Fellow Kevin Esvelt, Core Faculty member George Church, and others launches public conversation in Science and eLife about an emerging technology that could help control insect-borne disease and invasive species. Read press release...



Delivering drugs on cue

ultrasound cancer

Wyss Institute Core Faculty member David Mooney and his team use ultrasound and new responsive self-healing hydrogels to locally deliver chemotherapy drugs "on demand." The team demonstrated that the pulsed, ultrasound-triggered hydrogel approach to drug delivery was more effective at stopping the growth of tumor cells than traditional, sustained-release drug therapy. This advance has promising implications for improved cancer treatment and other therapies that require drug delivery to the right place at the right time. Read press release...


June 2014

Better than balsa

Balsa Wood

A team of material scientists led by Wyss Institute Core Faculty member Jennifer Lewis is using new resin inks and 3D printing to construct lightweight cellular composites that mimic balsa wood. These 3D composites may be useful for wind turbine, automotive and aerospace applications, where high stiffness and strength-to-weight ratios are needed. Read press release...



Tugging on the "malignant" switch

Light coaxes tooth regeneration

A team of engineers and cancer biologists led by Wyss Institute Core Faculty member Dave Mooney report in Nature Materials how stiffness in breast tissue contributes to invasive carcinoma. Read press release...



What if we could make water tough?


Researchers working on the Institute's Programmable Nanomaterials Platform are honing an extremely stretchy and tough hydrogel that may pave the way to replacing damaged cartilage in human joints. Learn more...





May 2014

Goodbye root canals?

Light coaxes tooth regeneration

A Harvard-led team is the first to demonstrate the ability to use low-power light to trigger stem cells inside the body to regenerate tissue, an advance they reported in Science Translational Medicine. The research, led by Wyss Institute Core Faculty member David Mooney, Ph.D., lays the foundation for a host of clinical applications in restorative dentistry and regenerative medicine more broadly, such as wound healing, bone regeneration, and more. Read press release...


Patient stem cells used to make 'heart disease-on-a-chip'

Heart disease on a chip

Harvard scientists have merged stem cell and 'organ-on-a-chip' technologies to grow, for the first time, functioning human heart tissue carrying an inherited cardiovascular disease. The research is big step forward for personalized medicine, as it is working proof that a chunk of tissue containing a patient's specific genetic disorder can be replicated in the laboratory. Read press release...


Bone marrow-on-a-chip unveiled

Bone marrow on a chip

Wyss Institute researchers led by Founding Director Don Ingber have developed bone marrow-on-a-chip. This device captures the complexity of living marrow in the laboratory and it could help test new drugs to prevent lethal radiation exposure, as reported in Nature Methods. Read press release...



New study probes mechanics of blood vessel

Bone marrow on a chip

A team at Boston University led by Wyss Institute Associate Faculty member Chris Chen showed that blood vessels may sense when blood flow exceeds their carrying capacity and respond by forming new vessels when needed, as reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Chen suggests that this response could be used to enhance vessel regrowth in times of critical need, such as after a heart attack. Read press release...


A goal to combat malaria with the help of a robot


The Harvard Biorobotics Laboratory, directed by Wyss Institute Associate Faculty member Robert Howe, has developed a robot that will be able to produce a vaccine for malaria faster and cheaper than a line of trained humans with microscopes. The robot, referred to as Sporobot, will extract salivary glands from half-frozen mosquitoes for mass production of a malaria vaccine developed by biotechnology firm Sanaria. Sanaria now hopes to crowdfund the prototype with never-before-seen capabilities for producing the vaccine for the world. Learn more...


Researchers use multi-material 3D printing to fabricate the first biomimetic shark skin

Biomimetic shark skin

Harvard scientist George Lauder and Wyss Institute Senior Staff Scientist James Weaver have characterized the hydrodynamic properties of synthetic shark skin—an advance that could inspire improved swimsuit, boat, and aircraft designs. Read story...



Rational design: best route for synthetic biology?

Pam Silver and Jeff Way

A healthy debate exists in science about the best way to engineer new biological systems that can clean water, generate green energy solutions, treat diseases, and more. Recently in Nature Wyss Institute Core Faculty member Pamela Silver and Senior Staff Scientist Jeffrey Way argue that a rational design approach is the best way to go because it weaves critical idiosyncrasies provided by Nature into the engineering mindset that has propelled synthetic biology thus far. Read story...


April 2014

Cloaked DNA nanodevices survive pilot mission

DNA nanodevices

Wyss Institute Core Faculty member William Shih and Technology Development Fellow Steven Perrault have developed DNA nanodevices to mimic the survival behavior of viruses. Their advance may pave the way for smart DNA nanorobots to deliver life saving therapeutics to tumors without being destroyed by the body's immune defenses. Read press release...


Introducing chitosan, the better bioplastic

Chitosan Bioplastic

A team of Wyss Institute researchers led by Don Ingber and Javier Fernandez have developed a fully degradable bioplastic isolated from shrimp shells. The new material can be molded into objects that exhibit many of the same properties as those created with synthetic plastics, but without the environmental threat. Learn more...


DNA origami nanorobots in living cockroaches

DNA nanobots

Wyss Institute's former postdoctoral fellow Ido Bachelet, currently assistant professor at Bar-Ilan University, Israel, his team, and Wyss Institute Senior Staff Scientist Daniel Levner have deployed DNA nanorobots, pioneered at the Wyss Institute in living cockroaches. Learn more...


March 2014

Manufacturing a solution to planet-clogging plastics

Chitosan bioplastic

A team led by Wyss Institute Founding Director Don Ingber and Postdoctoral Fellow Javier Fernandez has developed a method to carry out large-scale manufacturing of a fully degradable bioplastic isolated from shrimp shells. This advance reflects the next iteration of a material called 'Shrilk' that replicated the appearance and unique material properties of living insect cuticle. This material omits the silk in an attempt to make even cheaper, easier-to-make chitin-based bioplastic primed for wide-spread manufacturing. Read press release...



Shrinking gel for shaping organs

shrinking gel

Wyss Institute Founding Director Don Ingber and Core Faculty member Joanna Aizenberg have developed a material inspired by the embryo's power to shape organs that could enable engineering of new teeth, bone, or other tissues, as reported in Advanced Materials. Read press release...



Modeling cardiac ischemia using little more than paper and wax

Cardiac ischemia

Scientists have been on the hunt for better ways to study cells that operate in a "code blue" condition called ischemia, which can occur during a heart attack or stroke. A novel, three-dimensional, paper-based system developed by a team of researchers led by Wyss Institute Core Faculty member George Whitesides could help. The system mimics the tissue environment around a blocked coronary artery better than conventional cell culture systems, as reported recently in Advanced Healthcare Materials. Read story...


Bacterial reporters that get the scoop

status update from your gut

Status updates from your gut...Wyss Institute Core Faculty member Pam Silver and her team have engineered a strain of E. coli to record, remember and report on chemical signals in mammalian intestines. This advancement could pave the way for live diagnostics and therapeutics. Read press release...



Roomy cages built from DNA

DNA cages

Scientists led by Wyss Institute Core Faculty member Peng Yin have built a set of the most complex self-assembling DNA cages ever constructed. They visualized this innovation, one-tenth as wide as a bacterium, through a DNA-based microscopy method they developed called DNA-PAINT. These self-assembling DNA cages could revolutionize the future of drug delivery and enable scientists around the world to build a variety of technologies at the nanoscale. Read press release...


February 2014

Robotic construction crew needs no foreman


Inspired by termites' resilience and collective intelligence, Wyss Institute researchers led by Core Faculty member Radhika Nagpal developed an autonomous robot construction crew. The system, known as TERMES, needs no supervisor, no eye in the sky, and no communication: just simple robots - any number of robots - that cooperate by modifying their environment. TERMES is an important proof of concept for scalable, distributed artificial intelligence, and could one day be used to perform tasks as autonomously building human scale structures. Read press release...


Toward printing living tissues

3D printed tissue

Wyss Institute Core Faculty member Jennifer Lewis and her team have developed a new 3D printing method that takes them one step closer to the goal of printing human tissue for drug testing and eventually tissue repair in the body. Read press release...



Stunning complexity of the human heartbeat


Wyss Core Faculty member Ary Goldberger and his team have devised a new visualization technique to demonstrate the complex rhythm of the human heartbeat. This advance could lend new insights into heart conditions and foster the development of better anticipatory medical devices that could detect life threatening events before they occur. Read story...


A bird's eye view of cellular RNAs


A Wyss Institute team led by George Church, in collaboration with the Allen Institute for Brain Sciences, has developed a new method that pinpoints thousands of RNAs at once in intact cells. This new method, fluorescent in situ sequencing, could lead to earlier cancer diagnosis by revealing molecular changes that drive cancer in seemingly healthy tissue. Read press release...


Artificial muscles that do the twist

Soft actuated material

Wyss Institute researchers led by Core Faculty member Conor Walsh developed an actuated material that mimics the natural complex 3D motion of the human heart, as reported in Advanced Materials. In 3D, healthy hearts not only circulate blood by pumping. The heart twists as it contracts. This advancement could lead to better implantable medical devices and flexible robots. Read press release...


Capturing ultrasharp images of multiple cell components at once

synthetic DNA structures

A new microscopy method could enable scientists to generate snapshots of dozens of different biomolecules at once in a single human cell, a team from the Wyss Institute of Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University reported Sunday in Nature Methods. Such images could shed light on complex cellular pathways and potentially lead to new ways to diagnose disease, track its prognosis, or monitor the effectiveness of therapies at a cellular level. Read press release...


January 2014

'Chameleon of the sea' reveals its secrets

chameleon of the sea

Scientists at Harvard University and the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) hope new understanding of the natural nanoscale photonic device that enables a small marine animal to dynamically change its colors will inspire improved protective camouflage for soldiers on the battlefield. The cuttlefish, known as the "chameleon of the sea," can rapidly alter both the color and pattern of its skin, helping it blend in with its surroundings and avoid predators. In a paper published January 29 in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, the Harvard-MBL team reports new details on the sophisticated biomolecular nanophotonic system underlying the cuttlefish’s color-changing ways. Read press release...


Getting a charge from changes in humidity

humidity device

A new type of electrical generator uses bacterial spores to harness the untapped power of evaporating water, according to research conducted at the Wyss Institute of Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University. Its developers foresee electrical generators driven by changes in humidity from sun-warmed ponds and harbors. Read press release...



Novel noninvasive therapy prevents breast cancer formation in mice

noninvasive therapy prevents breast cancer formation

A novel breast-cancer therapy partially reverses the cancerous state in cultured breast tumor cells and prevents cancer development in mice, and it could one day provide a new way to treat early stages of the disease without resorting to surgery, chemotherapy or radiation, a multi-institutional team led by researchers from the Wyss Institute of Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University reported January 1 in Science Translational Medicine. Read press release...


Stain no more

SLIPS advance

The researchers behind SLIPS (Slippery Liquid-Infused Porous Surfaces) have demonstrated a spate of sleek applications of the super-slick coating since unveiling it in a 2011 issue of Nature - and they just expanded its repertoire even more. Read story...



Programming molecular robots: A Q&A with William Shih and Peng Yin

Peng Yin and William Shih

We sat down with two Wyss Institute Core Faculty members to discuss their pioneering work in a new branch of engineering, which could revolutionize fields as diverse as information technology, tissue engineering, and manufacturing. Rather than trying to program living cells, William Shih and Peng Yin are using DNA, RNA, and protein to build their own operating systems, sensors, and actuators with hopes of building tiny molecular robots. Read more...


December 2013

Programming smart molecules

Nils Napp

Computer scientists at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University have joined forces to put powerful probabilistic reasoning algorithms in the hands of bioengineers. In a new paper presented at the Neural Information Processing Systems conference on December 7, Ryan P. Adams and Nils Napp have shown that an important class of artificial intelligence algorithms could be implemented using chemical reactions. Read press release...


October 2013

New collaboration with AstraZeneca will advance Organs-on-Chips

AstraZeneca Wyss Collaboration

The Wyss Institute and AstraZeneca have teamed up to develop new animal versions of organs-on-chips. These animal organs-on-chips will be tested alongside the human models to further understand the extent to which drug safety results in animals can predict how an investigational drug might impact humans. This collaboration will help Institute researchers further validate the organs-on-chips approach as a potential alternative to animal testing. Read press release...


Radical recoding

Radical recoding

A team of Wyss scientists led by Core Faculty member George Church has created new genomes inside the bacterium E. coli in ways that test the limits of genetic reprogramming and open new possibilities for increasing flexibility, productivity, and safety in biotechnology. One of the novel genomes created expands the bacterium’s ability to produce proteins that would not normally occur in nature. Read press release...


DNA-PAINT opens new path to super-high-resolution molecular imaging


Wyss Institute Core Faculty member Peng Yin was one of ten to receive a NIH Transformative Research Award this year. With this award Yin and his team will further develop an inexpensive and easy-to-use new microscopy method to simultaneously spot many tiny components of cells. The method, called DNA-PAINT, uses programmable DNA nanostructures to produce ultrasharp molecular and cellular images that were previously unattainable. Read press release...


September 2013

Wyss Institute expands international reach through collaboration with Charité

Charité Wyss Collaboration

Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin in Germany is one of Europe’s largest university hospitals and now the Wyss Institute’s tenth collaborating institution. The partnership with Charité will accelerate the clinical translation of new materials and tissue engineering technologies for orthopedics and connective tissue regeneration. Read press release...


Rare 'words' in bacterial genes boost protein production

Rare words in bacterial genes

Researchers at the Wyss Institute led by Staff Scientist Sri Kosuri found that altering RNA folding can increase protein production. This new method could make microbial manufacturing more efficient by enabling better predictions about how to synthesize genes that make enzymes, drugs, and other cell components. Read press release...



How the gut's 'fingers' form

How gut's fingers form

Wyss Institute Core Faculty member L. Mahadevan has found that mechanical forces in growing gut tissue shape villi in embryonic animals. The investigation sheds new light on gut development while raising questions about how mechanical forces on tissues regulate growth – and how they might go awry to cause cancer. Read story...



 Programmable glue made of DNA directs tiny gel bricks to self-assemble

Programmable glue

Wyss Institute Core Faculty member Peng Yin was one of ten to receive a NIH Transformative Research Award this year. With this award Yin and his team will further develop an inexpensive and easy-to-use new microscopy method to simultaneously spot many tiny components of cells. The method, called DNA-PAINT, uses programmable DNA nanostructures to produce ultrasharp molecular and cellular images that were previously unattainable. Read press release...


Cross-disciplinary team from Harvard University and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute brings novel therapeutic cancer vaccine to human clinical trials

cancer vaccine

A cross-disciplinary team of scientists, engineers, and clinicians announced today that they have begun a Phase I clinical trial of an implantable vaccine to treat melanoma, the most lethal form of skin cancer. Read press release...



August 2013

Harvard's Wyss Institute to use 'Organ-on-a-Chip' microdevices to evaluate therapies for lethal radiation exposure

organs on chips

The Wyss Institute has received a $5.6 million grant award from the United States Food and Drug Administration to use its Organs-on-Chips technology for a novel application of keen interest to national security and health officials: to test human physiological responses to radiation, and to evaluate drugs designed to counter those effects. The effort will also be supported by a team in the Vascular Biology Program at Boston Children's Hospital.  Read press release...


New coating turns ordinary glass into superglass


A new transparent, bioinspired coating makes ordinary glass tough, self-cleaning, and incredibly slippery, a team from the Wyss Institute and Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences reported online in the July 31 edition of Nature Communications. The new coating could be used to create durable, scratch-resistant lenses for eyeglasses, self-cleaning windows, improved solar panels, and new medical diagnostic devices, said principal investigator Joanna Aizenberg, Ph.D., who is a Core Faculty Member at the Wyss Institute. Read press release...


July 2013

Lifelike cooling for sunbaked windows

microfluidic circulatory system for windows

Sun-drenched rooms make for happy residents, but large glass windows also bring higher air-conditioning bills. Now a bioinspired microfluidic circulatory system for windows developed by researchers at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University could save energy and cut cooling costs dramatically -- while letting in just as much sunlight. Read press release...


June 2013

Founding donor doubles gift

2nd gift

An exciting surprise awaited the Wyss Institute community members who gathered to celebrate five years of Institute work in innovation, collaboration, and technology translation. Harvard University President Drew Faust announced that the Institute's founding donor, Hansjörg Wyss, doubled his initial gift of $125 million to $250 million. The new gift will help ensure the Institute's momentum as it pioneers the field of biologically inspired engineering and develops solutions to some of the world's greatest medical and environmental challenges. More...



Printing tiny batteries

Micro battery

A team led by Core Faculty member Jennifer Lewis, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, was the first to use a 3D printer to make batteries, as reported in Advanced Materials and covered by news sites around the world. The lithium-ion microbatteries, each the size of a grain of sand, could be used to power tiny medical, robotic, and communications devices. More...


A Fantastic Voyage

Wyss symposium

The Institute's fourth annual symposium covered the latest bioinspired nanotherapeutics and diagnostics, and drew an energetic crowd of 400 clinicians, industry leaders, faculty, and students from 15 countries. The all-day event featured interactive presentations on targeted drug delivery, self-assembling nanomaterials, regenerative medicine and the challenges of translating such technologies to the commercial space. Presenters included Core Faculty members George Church, Don Ingber, Dave Mooney and Peng Yin; Noubar Afeyan (Flagship Ventures); Sangeeta Bhatia (MIT), Justin Hanes (Johns Hopkins University), and Samir Mitragotri (University of California, Santa Barbara).


RoboBee takes flight


Researchers led by Core Faculty member Rob Wood demonstrated the first controlled flight of the RoboBee, surmounting a decade of engineering challenges they encountered in designing such a small, sophisticated robot. The RoboBee weighs less than one-tenth of a gram and may one day assist in search-and-rescue missions. The landmark achievement, which was reported in Science, underscores the team's progress in unearthing an entire new landscape of meso-scale engineering capability. More...


Dodging antibiotic side effects

antibiotic side effects

A team of scientists at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University has discovered why long-term treatment with many common antibiotics can cause harmful side effects—and they have uncovered two easy strategies that could help prevent these dangerous responses. Read press release...



High-octane bacteria could ease pain at the pump

engineered e.coli

New lines of engineered bacteria can tailor-make key precursors of high-octane biofuels that could one day replace gasoline, scientists at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University and the Department of Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School report in the June 24 online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Read press release...


Good news and bad news on antibiotic resistance

E. coli

Core Faculty member Jim Collins and his team are hot on the trail of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and recently reported two major studies in one month about this serious public-health issue. In Nature, they revealed part of what makes these bacteria so tough to beat: viruses in the gut actually serve as allies by handing them genes that confer antibiotic resistance. That's the bad news. The good news, which Collins' team reported in Science Translational Medicine, is that treating bacteria with a silver compound boosts the efficacy of four existing antibiotics. These findings help pave the way toward new therapies for drug-resistant and recurrent infections. Read press release...


Wrinkles that we want

Tunable PDMS

Inspired by the wrinkling patterns that work various optical wonders in Nature, such as the iridescent cuticle of certain beetles and octopi that change color to avoid predators, Wyss Institute researchers led by Core Faculty member Joanna Aizenberg can now fine-tune the optical properties of a flexible polymer by applying varying degrees of mechanical strain. The results, reported in Advanced Optical Materials, could herald the development of new types of low-cost dynamic privacy screens, encryption devices, and smart window technologies. More...


May 2013

The Goldilocks of hydrogels?


Scientists have been trying for years to design biocompatible materials that are "just right" for tissue-engineering applications -- flexible, not too hard to make, and stable enough to support cell growth. A team led by Associate Faculty member Ali Khademhosseini and Postdoctoral Fellow Nasim Annabi has designed a new hydrogel that may do the trick. It incorporates an elastic protein found in all human tissues, the team reported in dual publications in Biomaterials and Advanced Functional Materials. More...


New moxie for microPADs


A team led by Core Faculty member George Whitesides reports in Lab on a Chip a new bench-top technique that can fabricate paper-based, microfluidic devices with exciting potential in low-cost medical diagnostics, environmental monitoring, food safety testing, and more. The researchers used a craft-cutting tool to etch channels as narrow as 45 µm in the paper devices, which can be designed and fabricated in less than ten minutes. The devices could help analyze complex fluids such as whole blood or droplets of water in oil -- a key advantage over existing microfluidic paper-based analytical devices (µPADs).


Flowers assemble in beaker


In a feat of bioinspiration, a team led by Core Faculty member Joanna Aizenberg created precisely tailored crystal structures in a beaker of fluid, as reported in Science. They grew a veritable garden of microscopic crystals, achieving shapes resembling tulips, marigolds, and carnations by subjecting a water-based barium chloride and sodium silicate solution to tightly controlled variables of pH, temperature, and air exposure. Chemical gradients influence the way many organisms grow, much as calcium carbonate gradients influence the growth of marine mollusks.This novel advancement in self-assembly signifies new capabilities in bioinspired engineering. "Our vision is to build as organisms do," Aizenberg said. More...


Growing bone from silicate nanoplatelets


A team led by Associate Faculty member Ali Khademhosseini and Postdoctoral Fellow Akhilesh K. Gaharwar reported recently in Advanced Materials that silicate nanoplatelets can stimulate stem cells to form into bone tissue in the absence of growth factors.The disk-shaped synthetic silicate nanoplatelets have been used extensively as food additives, cements, filler material, and other industrial applications -- but never before for tissue engineering or any other medical application. These robust nanoparticles dissociate into non-toxic products that each play a role in bone-related growth processes.

April 2013

DARPA green-lights sepsis device

Sepsis therapeutic device

The Wyss Institute was awarded a $9.25 million contract from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to further advance its blood-cleansing technology and help accelerate its translation to humans as a new type of sepsis therapy. More...





Tracks of your tears

Tunable material

Inspired by human tears, a team at the Wyss Institute and Harvard's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) led by Wyss Core Faculty member Joanna Aizenberg has designed a new kind of adaptive material with tunable transparency and wettability features. Reported in Nature Materials, the new technology could have many applications, such as textiles that block light on a sunny day and repel water on a rainy day, or pipelines that optimize the rate of flow depending on environmental conditions and the fluid volume passing through them. More...


The Wyss Institute model in action


A new collaboration between the Institute and Sony DADC will harness Sony DADC's global manufacturing expertise to further advance the Institute's Organs-on-Chips technologies. This is another example of the Wyss Institute collaborating with industry to help de-risk Institute technologies, both technically and commercially, and expedite their translation into real world applications. More...


Institute shines in Discover magazine

Discover article

The Wyss Institute was featured in a six-page spread in the April issue of Discover magazine. "What most distinguishes the Wyss is that its scientists treat the natural world as their inspirational springboard," writes reporter Gregory Mone, who visited the Institute last year.
Download article... [10 MB]



Hot springs may harbor key to better biofuels

Hot springs

Wyss researchers, led by Wyss Postdoctoral Fellow Matt Mattozzi, are drawing inspiration -- and genetic sequences -- from a bacterium that lives in hot springs and carries out photosynthesis much more efficiently than most plants on Earth. Their goal is to insert its genes into the iconic lab organism E. coli, turning it from a bacterium that cannot make its own food into one that can, as reported in Metabolic Engineering. Succeeding means E. coli could become an efficient photosynthetic "engine" to generate new biofuels and other sustainable products. More...


DNA-based electronics?

DNA nanostructure template

A research team that includes Wyss Core Faculty member Peng Yin and Postdoctoral Fellows Wei Sun and Yonggang Ke has built templates made of folded DNA nanostructures, which they used to create precise shapes made of graphene. The new fabrication strategy, pioneered by Yin, could help researchers design and build electronic circuits components. Graphene is a light substance made of pure carbon that has ideal electronic properties for integrated circuits but has thus far been difficult to work with and produce. More...


DNA nanotubes: New lens into proteins

DNA nanotube

A team led by Wyss Core Faculty member William Shih has developed a new method that could help take biological imaging to the next level, as reported recently in Nature Protocols. The technique uses "DNA origami," a method Shih has pioneered, to create DNA nanotubes -- which are assembled into dilute liquid crystals that can be specifically used to study integral membrane proteins (IMPs) using solution nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy. IMPs can be seen as gateways to the cell (IMP mutations are at the core of various diseases, for example), but they have been difficult for researchers to study using traditional NMR techniques.


Clinging to crevices

Clinging to crevices

A team of scientists including Wyss Core Faculty member Joanna Aizenberg and Wyss Staff Scientist Philsoek Kim found that the flagella of the bacterium Escherichia coli act like biological grappling hooks, reaching far into nanoscale crevices and latching the bacteria in place -- even on rough surfaces and those designed to resist water. A scourge of the healthcare industry, bacteria like E. coli are adept at clinging to the materials used in medical implants like pacemakers, prosthetics, stents, and catheters, causing dangerous infections. The findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), suggest that antibacterial materials should incorporate both structural and chemical deterrents to bacterial attachment.


February 2013

Tracing a circle: More science than art


Doctors routinely track hand-eye coordination to monitor any neuromuscular deficits as their patients age or if they are injured -- but the tests are subjective and qualitative. Perhaps not for long, as Wyss Institute researchers and colleagues from the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Hebrew SeniorLife, Boston, completed an exciting first clinical study for a new tracing tool that quantitatively tracks neuromuscular performance, as reported in the Journal of Gerontology: Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences. More...


Game on in war against bacterial superbugs

E. coli

A team of Wyss Institute and Boston University scientists led by Core Faculty member Jim Collins just won a battle in the war against antibiotic-resistant bacteria. They used computer modeling and biotechnology to disturb the metabolism of E. coli, rendering them weaker in the face of existing antibiotics, as reported in Nature Biotechnology. More...


First Hansjörg Wyss-endowed chair

Jennifer Lewis

Jennifer A. Lewis, an internationally recognized leader in 3D printing and biomimetic materials, has been appointed as the first Hansjörg Wyss Professor of Biologically Inspired Engineering at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and a Core Faculty Member of the Wyss Institute. Lewis is the first senior faculty to occupy a Wyss-endowed professorial chair. More...


The adventure continues...

Retreat video

Enjoy this celebratory new video capturing the energy and excitement of the Institute’s 2012 annual retreat. The retreat, held in Boston, attracted a record-breaking audience of nearly 500 faculty, fellows, students, research and engineering staff, clinicians, and industrial collaborators. Watch video...



MAGE animation: Narrated by George Church

MAGE animation

Multiplex Automated Genome Engineering, MAGE, is a cutting-edge technology that can accelerate and direct evolution within a population of cells -- sort of like natural selection in "fast forward" mode. In this new animation, Core Faculty member George Church explains MAGE's elegant "modus operandi," including what it means for the future of genetic engineering. More...


Inspiration from the bastard hogberry

Bioinspired fibers

A team at Harvard University, supported in part by the Wyss Institute, and the University of Exeter, UK, has invented a new fiber that changes color when stretched. Inspired by the fruit of the plant known as "bastard hogberry," the researchers engineered unique structures that re-create the fruit's striking blue-green hue. When combined with elastic material, these structures could lend themselves to the creation of smart fabrics that visibly react to heat or pressure, as described in Advanced Materials. More...


Bacteria inspire new genome engineering tool

Genetic Leatherman

A team led by Core Faculty member George Church has created an RNA-guided editing tool that allows researchers to integrate DNA changes into the genomes of living cells, faster and easier than ever before. Their inspiration came from the Cas9 enzyme system in the bacterial immune system, which uses short strands of RNA to target and cut invading viral DNA. The work, reported in Science, could one day enable engineering of multiple changes in different genes and then testing them simultaneously to see what role they play in complex diseases. More...


Leaping lizards ... or 3-legged soft robots

Bioinspired fibers

A team of scientists led by Core Faculty member George Whitesides is gearing up soft robots that might one day be used in search and rescue missions. Their latest achievement was triggering a three-legged soft robot to jump more than 30 times its own height by igniting methane -- an explosive chemical reaction -- in tubes connected to the robotic legs, as reported in Angewandte Chemie. What's more, the robot landed on its own "feet." Jumping, a movement previously only demonstrated for hard systems, would be an important skill for a soft robot navigating challenging terrain.


Shaping the beat of your heart

Stretching cardiomyocyte

Scientists have postulated for more than 20 years that there is a connection between the shape of the heart and its contractile function, particularly in response to various physiological (e.g., exercise) and pathological conditions (e.g., heart disease). While has been understood that heart cells generally elongate in a failing heart, for example, the intricacies of how this happens at a structural level have remained unclear. An interdisciplinary team led by Core Faculty member Kit Parker shed light on this mystery in a study published in The American Journal of Pathology. Their data suggest that the shape of cardiomyocytes (cells that comprise the heart muscle) is critical in determining their ability to contract; their shape regulates their intracellular structure and influences their ability to metabolize calcium.


December 2012

Building with DNA "bricks"

DNA bricks

A research team led by Wyss Core Faculty member Peng Yin and Wyss Postdoctoral Fellow Yonggang Ke created more than 100 three-dimensional nanostructures using DNA building blocks that function like Lego® bricks. This major advance from the two-dimensional structures they built a few months ago is the next step toward using DNA for more sophisticated applications than ever possible before. The new method was the cover article in Science. More...


SLIPS technology in a pipeline


Wyss Core Faculty member Joanna Aizenberg and team were awarded an ARPA-E grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to leverage the SLIPS technology to create self-repairing coatings for the inside surfaces of oil and water pipes, reducing friction and resulting in energy savings of up to 50%. The prestigious award is part of a $130-million funding effort by ARPA-E to support innovative energy technologies. More...


Human disease modeled in an organ-on-a-chip

Pulmonary edema on a chip

A cross-disciplinary team led by Wyss Technology Development Fellow Dongeun Huh and Wyss Founding Director Don Ingber have mimicked pulmonary edema in a microchip lined by living human cells. The study, reported in Science Translational Medicine, offers further proof-of-concept that human "organs-on-chips" hold tremendous potential to replace traditional approaches to drug discovery and development. More...


Injectable sponges to deliver drugs and cells

Injectable sponge

A team of bioengineers led by Wyss Core Faculty member David J. Mooney, has developed a gel-based sponge that can be molded to any shape, loaded with drugs or stem cells, compressed, and delivered via injection. As reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, it pops back to its original shape and gradually releases its cargo once inside the body before safely degrading. More...


DNA barcode: Scanning the future of bioimaging

DNA Barcodes

Much like checkout clerks use machines that scan barcodes to identify what customers are buying, scientists use microscopes and their own kinds of barcodes to help them identify parts of a cell or types of molecules. But their barcodes only come in a handful of "styles," limiting what they can study at one time -- until now. Three Wyss Core Faculty members, Peng Yin, William Shih, George Church, and team, have created a new barcode with the potential to help them gather vastly more vital information, at one time, than ever before. The results were reported in Nature Chemistry. More...


Getting a grip on tentacles

Robotic tentacle

Wyss Core Faculty member George Whitesides leads a team of researchers that is developing soft robots that can perform complex motions and tasks, even in the most confined and hazardous spaces, and at low cost. Inspired by the flexibility and dexterity of biological muscular systems such as the trunk of an elephant and the octopus arm, the team’s latest study, in Advanced Materials, describes the novel design and fabrication of soft robotic tentacles that can move in three dimensions and grip complex objects such as a flower or horse-shoe-shaped object. The design does not yet allow for any kind of heavy lifting, but the method is simple, fast, and relatively inexpensive.


Toward building more robust protein textiles

Protein textiles

A team led by Wyss Core Faculty member Kevin "Kit" Parker has developed models to further characterize biomimetic textiles composed of fibronectin proteins. These textiles could be used as scaffoldings to promote wound healing and to grow organs. The team studied how the material responds to mechanical loading and showed that these fabrics can extend up to nine times their original length without breaking. They reported their results in Nano Letters.


Wing-flap wizardry

Robotic wings

Under the leadership of Wyss Core Faculty member Rob Wood, a team of scientists and engineers is developing biologically inspired robots that can fly and hold tremendous potential value for search and rescue missions, hazardous environmental explorations, and mass pollination. Wood -- in collaboration with Wyss Staff Mechanical Engineer Kevin Galloway and lead author Ranjara Sahai, a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard's Microrobotics Laboratory -- describes in IEEE Transactions on Robotics a new design for the flapping wings of micro air vehicles. The novel approach achieves power and weight savings and a more integrated design.


Soft robotic devices: Breaking down barriers

Soft robotic assistive device

The design of a bio-inspired soft robotic assistive device to help brain-injured children move more effectively is showcased in a new article in Ecological Psychology. The paper, which describes how biologically inspired design overlaps with principles of ecological science such as multifunctionality and modularity, is presented by a large, multidisciplinary team at the Wyss Institute, Draper Laboratory, MIT, and Boston University and includes Core Faculty members Radhika Nagpal, Conor Walsh, and Rob Wood; Associate Faculty member Eugene Goldfield; Senior Staff Engineer Leia Stirling; Staff Research Scientist Damian Kelty-Stephen; Technology Development Fellows Yong-Lae Park and Diana Young; and Postdoctoral Fellows Bor-Rong Chen and Michael Wehner.


September 2012

Building a "human-on-a-chip"

Gut on a chip

In the Wyss Institute's largest sponsored project to date, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is providing up to $37 million in funding for the development of an automated "human-on-a-chip." The instrument will integrate 10 human organs-on-chips, including a lung, heart, and gut (shown here), to enable study of complex human physiology. Wyss Founding Director Don Ingber and Core Faculty member Kit Parker will lead the project. More...



Writing the book in DNA


Although George Church's book does not get published in print for a few more weeks, it has already passed an enviable benchmark: 70 billion copies -- roughly triple the sum of the top 100 books of all time. And all of these copies can fit on your thumbnail. That's because Church, a Core Faculty member of the Wyss Institute, and Wyss Staff Scientist Sriram Kosuri encoded in DNA the new book, Regenesis, which they then decoded and copied. More...


Helping clot busters reach their target

Shear-activated nanotherapeutic

Wyss Institute Founding Director Don Ingber, Technology Development Fellow Netanel Korin, and an inter-disciplinary and inter-institutional team reported in Science their development of a nanodevice that delivers clot-busting drugs directly to obstructed blood vessels, dissolving blood clots before they cause serious damage or even death. The novel nanotherapeutic has shown improved survival in mice using a small fraction of the normal therapeutic dose, which should translate into fewer side effects, such as bleeding, and greater safety over current treatments. More...


Smarter "smart" materials


A team led by Core Faculty member Joanna Aizenberg describe in Nature how they created materials that can self-regulate in response to environmental change. Called SMARTS (Self-regulated Mechano-chemical Adaptively Reconfigurable Tunable System), the system can, in principle, be tailored to maintain a set acidity, pressure, or just about any other desired parameter by meeting the environmental changes with a compensatory chemical feedback response. More...


An artificial jellyfish that "swims"


Combining recent advances in marine biomechanics, materials science, and tissue engineering, a team of researchers led by Core Faculty member Kit Parker has turned inanimate silicone and living cardiac muscle cells into a freely swimming "jellyfish." Their article describing the engineered jellyfish in Nature Biotechnology provides proof of concept for reverse engineering a variety of muscular organs and simple life forms. More...


Another success for SLIPS


SLIPS holds the promise of preventing a wide range of liquids from sticking to almost any surface. With their latest findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Wyss Core Faculty member Joanna Aizenberg, graduate student Alexander Epstein, and Postdoctoral Fellow Tak-Sing Wong have developed a slick way to prevent bacterial communities from ever forming into biofilms, which stick to everything from copper pipes and ship hulls to glass catheters and human teeth. More...


Surviving extreme dehydration

Bacillus spore

Most organisms die without water. But a bacterial spore has the remarkable ability to survive long periods of drought intact. Wyss Core faculty member L. Mahadevan and Wyss Collaborator Ozgur Sahin believe this extraordinary characteristic lies in the shifting folds of a bacterium's wrinkled coat. This research can form the basis for developing new, flexible materials that dynamically adapt to changes in their environment while providing the strength to withstand extensive physical stresses. More...


June 2012

DNA "building blocks" that work like LEGO® bricks

DNA building blocks

A research team led by Core Faculty Member Peng Yin has developed a new way to build complex nanostructures, such as letters and emoticons, out of interlocking DNA "building blocks." Further development of the technology could lead to the creation of nanoscale devices that deliver drugs directly to disease sites. The findings were published in Nature. More...



Noise & rhythm

Wyss Symposium

Leading scientists, clinicians, and academic experts gathered at the third annual Wyss symposium on June 8 to consider the opportunities and challenges presented by new technologies based on the complex systems and behaviors found in nature. Noise & Rhythm: Harnessing Complexity in Medicine and Robotics drew more than 400 people from as far away as China and Poland to the Longwood Medical Area in Boston. More...


A new spin on antifreeze


A new technological advance from a team led by Core Faculty Member Joanna Aizenberg could keep any metal surface free of ice and frost. The discovery, published online in ACS Nano, has direct implications for a wide variety of metal surfaces, such as those used in refrigeration systems, wind turbines, aircraft, marine vessels, and the construction industry. Other Wyss Institute members on the research team were Technology Development Fellow Philseok Kim, Postdoctoral Fellow Tak-Sing Wong, Research Assistant Jack Alvarenga, and Michael Kreder, a visiting undergraduate research intern. More...


When Nature calls: The Wyss wins the Webby

Webby Award winner

Last month the Wyss received one of the Internet's highest honors -- a Webby award -- at a gala event in New York City. Almost as celebrated as the awards themselves are their trademark five-word acceptance speeches. The Wyss speech, delivered by Founding Director Don Ingber, was "When Nature calls, we listen." Other nominees included in the Science category were Scientific American, Wired Science, and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. More...



Unlocking the secrets of circulating tumor cells

Circulating tumor cells

The important patient-specific information embedded in rare circulating tumor cells has been difficult to access, but a new microdevice created by researchers at the Wyss and Children's Hospital Boston could change that. The new technology, described in Lab on a Chip, has the potential to be a valuable tool for cancer diagnosis and treatment. Don Ingber and Postdoctoral Fellow Joo Kang led the research team. More...


Want to walk a tightrope? Do the math.

Tightrope walker

It may seem obvious that tightrope walkers need good balance, but a study coauthored by Core Faculty Member L. Mahadevan has found that for these high-wire walkers, good "balance" doesn't only refer to weight distribution. It also means the ability to balance the complex challenges of perception and motor control. In a recent article in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, he offers a mathematical explanation for how these athletes remain upright. Such calculations could help scientists better understand how the brain and body work together to pull off difficult tasks.


The Tell-Tale Heart


A team lead by Core Faculty Member Kit Parker and former Postdoctoral Fellow Anna Grosberg has developed a range of devices to help measure smooth and striated muscle contractility. Accurate contractility data can aid in the development of more effective and safe treatments for cardiovascular disease. The device is based on muscular thin film technology in which an elastic film is lined with engineered muscle cells to simulate the heart's or vessel's contractile strength. Their findings appeared in the Journal of Pharmacological and Toxicological Methods.


Lessons from the mighty mantis shrimp

Mantis shrimp

The club-like appendages of the peacock mantis shrimp are strong enough to smash open its daily diet of mollusks and crustaceans. In studying these extraordinary features, Wyss research associate James Weaver and colleagues found that the toughness results from a unique composite structure that helps disperse the force of the impact and prevent cracks from spreading. Their findings, which were just published in Science, could provide insights into the fabrication of tough new hybrid materials.



April 2012

Trusting your gut(-on-a-chip)


Wyss researchers Hyun Jung Kim, Dan Huh, Geraldine Hamilton, and Founding Director Donald Ingber have created a gut-on-a-chip microdevice that simulates the structure, microenvironment, and peristalsis-like distortions of the human intestine and even supports the growth of living microbes. As a more accurate alternative to conventional cell culture and animal models, the device could provide new insights into intestinal disorders such as Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis and also evaluate the safety and efficacy of potential treatments. The research findings appear in Lab on a Chip. More...


Robot building simplified

Printed Robot

Core Faculty Member Rob Wood and Visiting Scholar Daniela Rus will play key roles in an ambitious new project designed to make customized robots -- and their myriad potential applications -- widely available. Funded by a $10 million grant from the National Science Foundation, the new project seeks to develop a desktop technology that enables a person anywhere to design and produce a specialized robot in a matter of hours. More...


Wyss Website Nominated for Internet's Highest Honor

Webby Awards

The Wyss website has been selected as one of five finalists for a Webby Award in the category of science. Nominees were selected by the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences from among nearly 10,000 entries, representing all 50 states and more than 60 countries. In addition to the Webby Award, a People's Voice Award will be announced. Help us win the People's Voice Award -- vote Wyss!



Genetic switchboard could program bacteria

Genetic switchboard

Wyss Core faculty member James Collins and colleagues have developed a genetic switchboard that controls and links multiple biological circuits and pathways, much as an electronic circuit board controls and links electronic components and pathways. And just as the latter is used to program the behavior of a computer, so can the new tool be used to program the behavior of an organism. Such an advanced tool has enormous potential for programming bacteria to produce sugar, biofuels, and drugs. Their findings appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


Robotic insects spring to life

Pop-up robot

A new technique inspired by pop-up books and origami will someday allow rapid fabrication of clones of microrobots or virtually any other type of electromechanical device to be mass-produced by the sheet. The ingenious layering and folding process was devised by doctoral candidates Pratheev Sreetharan, J. Peter Whitney, and Wyss Core Faculty member Rob Wood, enables the rapid fabrication of microrobots and a broad range of electromechanical devices. The Monolithic Bee (shown here) is a robotic insect approximately the size of a U.S. quarter which pops up within a scaffold that performs more than 20 origami assembly folds. More...


A speedier approach to genetic engineering

MAGE device

In a new article in Nature Methods, Technology Development Fellow Harris Wang and Core Faculty member George Church describe further advances in multiplex automated genome engineering (MAGE). Already one of the most effective ways of genetically changing a bacterium to, for example, produce drugs or biofuels, MAGE is limited to using short strands of DNA -- typically a few bases. The latest method can handle 20 bases at a time, making the process significantly faster.


Magnetic attraction

Magnetic yeast

Magnetic fields are everywhere, but few organisms can sense them. Now, Keiji Nishida from Harvard Medical School and Wyss Core Faculty member Pam Silver have developed a method for inducing magnetic sensitivity in an organism that is not naturally magnetic -- yeast. The technology could potentially be used to magnetize a variety of different cell types so that they can be targeted, removed, isolated, or even traced in a number of industrial and medical settings. More...


Sweet new advance


A recent publication in Applied and Environmental Microbiology highlights a significant new advance in a Wyss program to coax bacteria into producing sugar. Core Faculty Member Pam Silver, Advanced Technology Team member Jeff Way, and Postdoctoral Fellow Daniel Ducat have engineered a strain of cyanobacteria to be 100-fold more efficient than previous approaches used in microbes to convert light and CO2 into sucrose. The new technology, which could one day help meet the huge industrial demand for sugar (as a feedstock for producing chemicals and fuels), offers a key advantage over current sources of sugar, such as corn and sugarcane. While these traditional crops require large swaths of prime agricultural land, the engineered microbes can be productive in even the most barren landscapes. Moreover, if brought to scale, research suggests they might outproduce the food crops.



February 2012

Nanorobots that tell cancer cells to self destruct

DNA nanorobot

A new robotic device made from DNA could potentially seek out specific cell targets and deliver important molecular instructions, such as telling cancer cells to self-destruct. The technology, which was developed by Wyss Technology Development Fellow Shawn Douglas, former Wyss Postdoctoral Fellow Ido Bachelet, and Wyss Core Faculty Member George Church, might one day be used to program immune responses to treat various diseases. The research findings appear in Science. More...


Nanotherapeutics for diabetes can target pancreas

Smart nanotherapeutics

Kaustabh Ghosh, a postdoctoral fellow at Children's Hospital Boston, and Wyss Institute Director Don Ingber have developed injectable nanotherapeutics that can deliver drugs directly to the cells of the pancreas that produce insulin. The targeted approach could lead to improved treatment for Type I diabetes by increasing drug efficacy and reducing side effects. The findings were published in Nano Letters. More...


Conor Walsh joins the Wyss

Conor Walsh

Conor Walsh, Ph.D., has joined the Wyss Institute as a new core faculty member who will focus on developing smart medical devices for diagnostic, therapeutic, and assistive applications. In one project he is developing compact robots that operate inside medical imaging machines to enable the highly accurate placement of biopsy needles and thermal ablation probes. More...



Probing DNA with unprecedented accuracy

Molecular probe

Wyss Postdoctoral Fellow David Zhang and Wyss Core Faculty Member Peng Yin have developed a highly accurate molecular probe for identifying specific DNA and RNA sequences under a wide range of operating conditions. By improving the reliability of biomedical devices, such as microarray analysis and disease marker detection, the method could lead to powerful new tools for basic research and clinical diagnostics. Zhang and Yin's findings appeared in the online edition of Nature Chemistry. More...


Beating heart-on-a-chip

Lab on a Chip cover image

Developing accurate methods for testing the toxicity and efficacy of cardiovascular drugs has been hampered by the difficulty of replicating both the contractility of heart tissue and its electrical activity in an in vitro model. But now a team led by Wyss Core Faculty Member Kit Parker and Wyss postdoctoral fellow Anna Grosberg has designed a heart-on-a-chip device that uses novel muscular thin-film technology to more accurately replicate these functions. Their findings, which could ultimately lead to more effective cardiovascular treatments, appear as the cover story in a recent issue of Lab on a Chip.


Tools developed to re-program bacteria

Molecular tools

Photosynthetic bacteria rely on complex protein structures to house the enzymes required to fix carbon. Wyss Core Faculty Member Pam Silver and colleagues recently showed that these elaborate pathways can be produced in bacteria that do not normally fix carbon. Their work, the findings for which appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is a significant step toward developing genetic tools that can program bacteria to perform useful functions, such as produce biofuels.


New hope for cardiac repair

Ali Khademhosseini

A research team that includes Wyss Associate Faculty Member Ali Khademhosseini has developed a surface coating that may one day help repair cardiovascular injuries. Based on a hydrogel, the coating could be used on artificial cardiovascular implants to attract and capture the cells needed to induce regeneration. The research findings were recently published in the Journal of Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine.



December 2011

Third annual Wyss Institute retreat celebrates growth, breakthroughs, and progress

Wyss Retreat

From the many new research discoveries, to the dramatic increase in laboratory space, to a recent technology licensing agreement, the Wyss Institute's third annual retreat offered a dynamic window into our unique model and growth. The event brought together about 320 faculty, fellows, students, staff, clinical partners, and other collaborators to share updates, identify synergies, and foster communication. More...


Kilobot swarms into the market place


The Wyss Institute has licensed its Kilobot robotic technology to K-Team Corporation, a Swiss manufacturer of high-quality mobile robots. Designed by Radhika Nagpal, Michael Rubenstein, and other team members, this low-cost system, inspired by social insects, such as ants, advances the development of robot swarms that might one day tunnel through rubble to find survivors or self-assemble to form support structures in collapsed buildings. More on the story... Media coverage included reports from Discovery Channel News and MSNBC.


Over 100 students compete at BIOMOD 2011

Biomod grand prize winners

The Wyss Institute's inaugural international biomolecular design competition, BIOMOD 2011, took place in November. More than 100 participants representing 21 teams from around the world, including Germany, India, China, Japan, Slovenia, and Peru, converged to Boston for the BIOMOD jamboree. In demonstrating that an RNA nanostructure can be designed as both a drug carrier and as an active therapeutic agent, the Danish Nano Artists took home the grand prize at the event. More...


Where has that bacterium been?

Genetic security

In a new contract for $3.7 million from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Wyss researchers plan to develop a genetic security system that tracks an organism's history. The DNA-based memory device would sit inside a bacterium and create a permanent record of its historical experiences in much the same way as the "Track Changes" feature of word-processing software records successive edits in a document. Such a bacterial background check would be analogous to biological forensic tools, such as fingerprint analysis, DNA testing, and blood typing. More...


New "shrilk" material could replace plastic

Wing made of shrilk

Taking inspiration from insect cuticle, Javier Fernandez and Don Ingber have developed a new low-cost, biodegradable material that has exceptional strength and toughness. Called "Shrilk" because its components come from shrimp and silk, the material could one day replace plastic in trash bags and packaging or be used to suture load-bearing wounds or as scaffolding for tissue regeneration. Shrilk is described in a recent article in Advanced Materials. More...


Walk like a starfish

Soft robot

Inspired by squid and starfish, a new soft robot can crawl, undulate, and squeeze under obstacles, as described in PNAS and as shown in a report by the BBC. The robot was built by a team led by George Whitesides. Soft robots are more resistant to damage from real-world hazards than rigid designs.


Unlocking secrets of a columbine


New research involving L. Mahadevan helps explain how a columbine flower is able to tailor the length of its nectar spurs to attract specific pollinators. According to results published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, the differences in length result from subtle differences in the extent of cell elongation. More...


Fine tuning surface structure at the nano scale

Meniscus lithography

In a recent paper in Physical Review Letters, Joanna Aizenberg and colleagues describe a new way to make a variety of complex patterned surfaces by self-assembly. The method, which they call meniscus lithography, involves a dynamic feedback process that occurs when nanopillars assemble in an evaporating liquid. Their findings offer a simple way to fine-tune surfaces for a variety of sensing, adhesive, and controlled wetting applications.


Shining light on quantum networks

Quantum networks

A research team that includes Wyss Staff Scientist Mughees Khan has reached a milestone on the road to quantum networks in which information is carried through a network via light. The team managed to capture light in tiny diamond pillars and then release a stream of single photons at a controllable rate. The findings appeared in an October issue of Nature Photonics.


Organ building: The whole tooth

Tooth formation

After determining that mechanical forces play a critical role in organ formation, researchers from the Wyss and Children's Hospital Boston were able to induce formation of a whole tooth in the lab. Their findings, which appeared in Developmental Cell, could lead to a new approach for organ engineering in humans.


New collaboration to create resilient fibers

Composite fibers

Neel Joshi's and Kit Parker's teams have joined forces to create mechanically reinforced composite fibers for medical applications. These resilient fibers could be used to make implantable devices that can withstand the mechanical stresses in the human body. Funding of $50k will be provided by Harvard's Materials Research Science and Engineering Center.


October 2011

Welcome to the new Wyss Institute website

Wyss website

Today marks the launch of the new Wyss website, which features the bold color palette and striking biologically inspired imagery that have come to be associated with our work. The new homepage provides direct access to the wide variety of content on the site, which includes a new set of videos that were filmed in our offices and labs and feature our faculty and staff members. Check out the site at



New DARPA grant will fund sepsis therapeutic device

DARPA grant

The Wyss Institute was awarded a $12.3 million, four-year grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop a treatment for sepsis, a commonly fatal bloodstream infection. The proposed device will integrate several technologies by Wyss researchers, Don Ingber, Joanna Aizenberg, and George Church, including organs-on-a-chip, super slipery surfaces, and magnetic opsonins that can remove pathogens from the blood. More...


Slippery ships!


Inspired by nature, both efforts will focus on the creation of new surfaces that are capable of unprecedented adaptive and self-regulating behavior. Marine biofouling is one of the focus applications, where the proposed surfaces would offer a cost effective and environmentally friendly alternative to current toxic treatment methods and would result in lower ship drag and reduced fuel costs.


Inventing the future built environment

Adaptive Architecture workshop

The Wyss Institute's first workshop on adaptive architecture -- Buildings Inspired by Nature: Inventing the Future Built Environment -- brought together diverse members of the scientific community and the building industry to help set a future course for architecture. Led by Chuck Hoberman, Joanna Aizenberg, and Don Ingber, the event explored bioinspired advances in materials and structures that can address our most pressing building needs.


MAGE jumps in the industrial front

Cell cultures in 3D

We recently initiated a research collaboration with BASF, the world's largest chemical company. The collaboration, headed by George Church, explores use of the Wyss Institute’s Multiplexed Automated Genome Engineering (MAGE) technology as a faster, cost-effective alternative to current metabolic engineering alternatives. This collaboration complements our ongoing efforts using MAGE to explore pharmaceutical and biofuel applications.


Hijacking the genetic code using directed evolution


Scientists have copied an entire genome before, but now, in what the New York Times says may be an even more significant advance, a research team that includes George Church and Harris Wang has been able to radically change a genome by performing large-scale, simultaneous "edits." Their findings appeared in a July issue of Science.


Communicating secret messages with W-ink


Joanna Aizenberg, Ian Burgess, and Ben Hatton were part of the team that invented "watermark ink," a strip of material that can instantly identify unknown liquids by their surface tension. The strip, which fits in the palm of a hand and doesn't need a power source, might be used to identify the specific toxins in a chemical spill. Watermark ink was described in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and covered by Scientific American, Popular Mechanics, and Discover magazine.


Turning a cell into a factory


In what could be a significant step toward converting cells into tiny biological production facilities, a team led by Faisal Aldaye and core faculty member Pamela Silver has developed a novel technology for controlling the behavior of a cell, in much the same way that an integrated circuit directs the behavior of a computer or cell phone. Their new approach, the findings for which appeared in Science, uses the nucleic acid, RNA, as a building block for a tool that programs a cell to do useful things, such as produce biofuels or drugs. More...


Explaining the looping pattern of the intestine

Looping patterns

Between conception and birth, the human gut grows more than two meters long, coiling inside the abdomen. Within a given species, the developing gut always loops in the same formation -- but, until now, it has not been clear why. Using mathematics and computer science, a group of researchers that includes Wyss core faculty member L. Mahadevan discovered that the looping pattern results from a balance of forces between the gut tube and neighboring tissues. Their interdisciplinary research findings were published in the August 4 issue of Nature.


Bioengineer/soldier attacks brain trauma

Injured neuron

Kit Parker has identified the cellular mechanism that translates mechanical forces into subtle, yet disastrous, physiological changes in the brain during a traumatic injury. His findings, which appeared over the summer in both the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and PLoS One, offer urgently needed direction for research in treating soldiers who are sustaining these types of injuries. Parker's work received significant media coverage around the world, including a CNN segment.


DNA nanotechnology grows up

DNA origami shapes

William Shih lent his perspective to an article in Science entitled "DNA Nanotechnology Grows Up." The piece chronicled the rate of acceptance of DNA nanotechnology -- in which DNA building blocks assemble themselves into different structures--as a tool for serious research.


We've won a Webby Award!

Wyss Institute is proud to announce our win in the 2012
Webby Awards in the Science category.