With National Science Foundation support, the University of California Merced will establish the Center for Cellular and Biomolecular Machines. The Center will use an interdisciplinary approach cutting across scientific and engineering methodologies to (i) pursue a fundamental understanding of the structure, dynamics and functioning of multi-scale biomolecular and cellular assemblies; (ii) use these fundamental principles for designing and developing novel bio-inspired functioning machines ranging from designer cells and tissue to diagnostic and therapeutic devices; and (iii) develop an integrated, interdisciplinary training program for graduate students that will combine physical and biological components with supervision of research and training experiences for undergraduate students and high school teachers.
Center research is organized around three subprojects based on the scales of the assemblies and processes involved. Subproject 1, entitled Biomolecular Machines, investigates circadian molecular clocks to develop sensors capable of monitoring specific biological processes inside cells in real time. Center researchers will investigate the molecular mechanisms of the cyanobacterial oscillator that is composed of three monomeric proteins that autonomously maintains time in vitro. Researchers will also develop proofs of concept for single-molecule biosensors and apply them to investigate the cellular events that occur during cardiac dysfunction in an in vivo model.
Entitled Macromolecular Assemblies and Hybrid Devices, subproject 2 will study material properties of innovative assemblies of biomolecules, inorganic matter and/or their mixtures to produce enhanced functionality and devices. This method will be applied to develop a sensor for Valley Fever that is caused by a fungal infection.
Subproject 3, entitled Cellular and Multicellular Systems, investigates large scale assemblies composed of multiple cells. Center research focuses on bacterial community motility and stem cell differentiation. Emphasis will be placed on the effect of mechanical force on cell fate.
Progress in these areas may lead to therapeutic improvements in human health and the implementation of design principles for building bio-inspired materials and machines.