SF State joins groundbreaking NSF-funded bioengineering center

Bay Area researchers will partner at UCSF-led center to engineer biological machines

SAN FRANCISCO, Sept. 26, 2016 — San Francisco State University will join a groundbreaking cell engineering center based at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) aimed at adapting tools from engineering, the physical sciences and computer science to design automated machines around living cells.

The new Center for Cellular Construction is funded by a five-year, $24 million National Science Center Science and Technology Center grant, one of four such awards announced today by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Administered by UCSF, the partnership will also include researchers from SF State; the University of California, Berkeley; Stanford University; the IBM Almaden Research Center; and the Exploratorium science museum.

“SF State faculty, research staff and students will be key partners in a transcendent effort to establish cell engineering as a new field,” said Keith Bowman, dean of the College of Science & Engineering. “Our students will be part of groundbreaking efforts to design and validate cells with new functionalities.”

Eight University faculty members and seven master’s degree students will participate in the project, and undergraduate students will have the opportunity to partake in summer research internships. That participation will help SF State play a key role in one of the Center’s additional priorities: educating the next generation of cell engineers and increasing the participation of underrepresented minorities in the field. The University was recently ranked as one of the most diverse in the nation, and broadening participation in the sciences has been a key focus of the College of Science & Engineering.

“This partnership will allow our students, the majority of whom come from underrepresented backgrounds, the opportunity to gain skills and experience that will help them get into top doctoral programs and make their mark as scientists,” said Frank Bayliss, a professor of biology who will serve as diversity director for the new center. “They will be working alongside a diverse group of excellent cell biologists at SF State, as well as outstanding scientists at UCSF and our other partner institutions, on high-level, cutting-edge research that will have a positive impact on society.”

The Center will also host summer cell engineering “boot camps” for high school students and teachers in San Francisco and across the Bay Area.

Researchers in the new Center will collaborate to develop new scientific tools to allow scientists to reliably engineer cells for desired functions by modifying their internal organization; design complex multicellular and multi-organism structures to accomplish specific tasks; and develop living bioreactors that can generate products of commercial value, such as drugs or biofuels.

“If we could engineer cells to make biofuels efficiently, we could begin to phase out fossil fuels,” and disease therapies currently in the concept phase can now potentially be manufactured, Bayliss said.

The new Center is just the latest collaboration between SF State and UCSF. The two universities have partnered on the National Institutes of Health-funded SF BUILD program, which aims to increase diversity in the biomedical sciences. SF State and UCSF also jointly offer a doctor of physical therapy program, ranked as one of the best in the nation, as well as a joint post-doctoral training program where the participants conduct research at UCSF and train to develop teaching skills with masters teachers at SF State. The two institutions also partner with several other universities on the NIH Bridges to the Doctorate program, which prepares underrepresented minority master's degree students for biomedical Ph.D. programs.

Other SF State research faculty participating in the Center for Cellular Construction are Professors of Biology Laura Burrus, Diana Chu and Carmen Domingo; Associate Professors of Biology Wilfred Denetclaw and Blake Riggs; Assistant Professor of Biology Mark Chan; and Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Ray Esquerra.

More information about the 2016 NSF Science and Technology Center grants can be found at http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=189782


San Francisco State University is a doctoral public university serving the counties of San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin with nationally acclaimed programs that span a broad range of disciplines. Nearly 30,000 students enroll at the University each year, and its more than 236,000 graduates have contributed to the economic, cultural and civic fabric of San Francisco and beyond. Through them — and more than 1,600 world-class faculty members — SF State proudly embraces its legacy of academic excellence, community engagement and commitment to social justice. For more information, visit sfsu.edu.