A magnified image of glowing cells


For decades, the U.S. National Science Foundation's investments in biotechnology have accelerated scientific discovery and enabled the use of living things to create goods and services that benefit society.

Whether it's lifesaving vaccines or biodegradable plastics, advances built on the discovery, use and alteration of living things are growing the U.S. economy and transforming fields as diverse as medicine and manufacturing, agriculture and clean energy.

Brought to you by NSF

NSF's decades of sustained investments have ensured the continual advance of the field of biotechnology. Pioneering work supported by NSF includes:

DNA analysis

NSF-funded researchers discovered a microbe whose heat-tolerant enzyme is the key to polymerase chain reaction (PCR): a foundational technology in medicine, biotechnology, forensics and basic research.

Visualizing living cells

NSF-funded researchers developed a molecular tool, using the enzyme responsible for firefly bioluminescence, that allows researchers to noninvasively study living cells and tissues.

Evolving new enzymes

NSF-supported research led to a Nobel Prize-winning technique, known as directed evolution, to create new enzymes that can catalyze chemical reactions and produce new cancer treatments, plant-based fuels, greener industrial chemicals and many other products.

Genome sequencing

With NSF funding, biologists sequenced the first plant genome (Arabidopsis thaliana), enabling the development of new crops with improved cold tolerance and yield.

Gene editing

NSF-funded research on the immune system in bacteria led to the development of a gene editing tool, CRISPR-Cas9, that has revolutionized biotechnology and earned its inventors the Nobel Prize in chemistry.

Tissue engineering

NSF-funded researchers have developed ways to grow cells on a scaffold, forming tissues that can replace damaged skin or bone.

What we support

Fundamental research

We support research that increases understanding of biological principles and integrates that knowledge with engineering, computing, geology, mathematics and the physical and social sciences to push the frontiers of science and engineering.

Use-inspired research

We support the development of bio-based and bio-inspired materials, machines, robots and manufacturing technologies for scientific and societal benefit.

Research infrastructure

We support the development of computing and physical infrastructure necessary to generate fundamental knowledge and advance biotechnology and biomanufacturing.

Education and workforce development

We support the creation of a diverse workforce ready to develop and use the biotechnology breakthroughs of the future.

Partnerships to accelerate progress

We partner with other federal agencies, industry and nonprofits to share data, tools, expertise and other resources; strengthen workforce development; and translate research into products and services that benefit society.

America's Seed Fund (SBIR/STTR)

Supports startups and small businesses to translate research into products and services, including biological technologies and biomedical technologies, for the public good.

Supports research into synthetic microbial communities, including how they form and evolve, how to use them to address biological questions, and/or how to build them for biotechnology or bioengineering applications.

Cellular and Biochemical Engineering

Supports fundamental engineering research leading to the development of technology that advances biomanufacturing in the therapeutic cell, biochemical, biopharmaceutical and biotechnology industries.

Designing Synthetic Cells Beyond the Bounds of Evolution

Supports research that designs and builds synthetic or artificial cells or cell-like systems to explore questions about biological function or evolution of life processes and for biotechnology applications.

Experiential Learning for Emerging and Novel Technologies

Supports inclusive experiential learning opportunities that provide cohorts of diverse learners with the skills needed to succeed in biotechnology and other emerging technology fields.

Ideas Lab: Use-Inspired Acceleration of Protein Design

Supports participation in an Ideas Lab — an intense, facilitated workshop — to stimulate the translation of novel approaches to protein design and enable new applications of importance to the U.S. bioeconomy.

Ideas Lab: Advancing Cell-Free Systems Toward Increased Range of Use-Inspired Applications

Supports participation in an Ideas Lab — an intense, facilitated workshop — to accelerate the adoption of cell-free systems, enable new, use-inspired applications and contribute to the growth of the U.S. bioeconomy.

Sentinel Systems that Detect, Recognize, Actuate and Mitigate Emergent Biological Threats

Supports the creation and development of novel biotechnologies for detecting and responding to known and unknown biological threats.

Smart Health and Biomedical Research

Supports research that leverages advances in computing and information science, engineering, mathematics, statistics, behavioral and/or cognitive research to address pressing questions in the biomedical and public health communities.

Additional resources