Corey J Wilson is the principal investigator of a new National Science Foundation (NSF) award ($1,077,799) titled “Engineering Intelligent Chassis Cells.” The goal of this research is to engineer intelligent biological systems, with advanced security features.
From an engineering perspective, an intelligent biological system has three fundamental tenets: (i) the ability to make decisions, (ii) a memory system that is coupled to decision making, and (iii) a means to communicate with other discrete living units. Engineered intelligent biological cells will enable the development of living therapeutics, advanced biomanufacturing capabilities, and contribute to a deeper understanding of complex functions in living systems, Wilson said.
In addition, this collection of emerging technologies will enable next-generation biosecurity measures that will prevent the unwanted release of organisms that can cause harm to human life or property, and prevent the theft of valuable biotechnologies. This research also will contribute to workforce development in the areas of protein engineering, genetic engineering, and related technological fields, Wilson explained.
The successful completion of this research will result in several new chassis cells imbued with: (i) engineered programming structures for decision making, (ii) complementary memory structures to control states of specialization, and (iii) biosynthesis and receiver networks capable of programmable unidirectional and bidirectional communication. The resulting chassis cells will enable distributed computation, networked functions, expanded biological computing capabilities, and programmable differentiation.
Moreover, the aforementioned technologies will enable the development of a broad range of novel bio-cryptography tools.
“Collectively this new biosecurity platform will enable scientists and engineers to progress beyond simple operational technology security measures, to a more robust informational technology intrinsic-security approach specifically designed for protecting biotic assets,” Wilson said.
To achieve these objectives will require the design and construction of novel gene controls forming a system of engineered allosteric transcription factors (i.e., transcriptional programming), a means to program correlated and permanent changes at the genetic level that can persist in forward generations of a given chassis cell, and the development of universal communication processes beyond standard quorum sensing.