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NSF Awards $2M to U. of Washington, Rice U. for Synthetic Bio Research into Stem Cells

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Researchers from Rice University and the University of Washington have received a four-year, $2 million award from the National Science Foundation to engineer bacterial stem cells "to grow and divide into a wide variety of multicellular patterns and structures," in order to better understand their behavior.

The research, according to the grant's abstract, will result in a "rigorous framework to engineer a single stem cell to grow and differentiate into any arbitrary pattern… [enabling] a potentially transformative technology for controlling the growth of tissues and higher order cellular structures through engineered cell-cell communication."

The researchers will construct a model multicellular "developmental" system in E. coli, a bacterium that provides them with a "blank slate" because it doesn't normally exhibit patterned growth.

"In complex creatures like humans and animals, cells cooperate to form extraordinary patterns and structures from the earliest stages of embryonic development," the principal investigator on the project, Jeff Tabor, a bioengineer at Rice, said in a statement. "There have been significant advances in engineering cells that can sense and react to one another or to external stimuli like light. The next big challenge is to build upon those techniques to program cells that can cooperate with one another in complex, coordinated tasks."

The co-investigators on the award are Oleg Igoshin, a Rice bioengineer, as well as University of Washington researchers Eric Klavins, Ben Kerr, and Georg Seelig.