Abstract collage of science-related imagery

Center for Cellular Construction (CCC)

Status: Archived

Archived funding opportunity

This document has been archived.

Important information for proposers

All proposals must be submitted in accordance with the requirements specified in this funding opportunity and in the NSF Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide (PAPPG) that is in effect for the relevant due date to which the proposal is being submitted. It is the responsibility of the proposer to ensure that the proposal meets these requirements. Submitting a proposal prior to a specified deadline does not negate this requirement.


The goal of the Center for Cellular Construction (CCC) is the transformation of the field of cell biology into a quantitative discipline that uses tools from engineering, physical and computer sciences to enable both a greater understanding of the rules that govern cell behavior and the ability to design cells to have useful functions. CCC will 1) develop the practical and computational tools to predict, design and experimentally test the impact on cellular function of designed changes in the internal organization of cells, 2) create the experimental tools for building multicellular and multi-organism structures, and 3) develop living "bioreactors" that will generate products of commercial value. To achieve this vision, integration is required at many levels. Scientists trained in cell biology, physics, engineering, mathematics and computer science will work together, and practical scientists who experiment in the laboratory will work together with computer modelers and theoreticians. In order to develop cellular machines with real-world applications, university researchers will work with their counterparts in commercial companies, and to train a new generation of researchers at undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral levels in this emerging field, institutions with strong undergraduate programs will work together with research intensive universities and industrial partners to develop new interdisciplinary courses and training methods. CCC will take advantage of "incubator space" at the University of California-San Francisco to encourage the formation of start-up companies. Partnered with UC-San Francisco in this center are San Francisco State University, UC-Berkeley, Stanford University, IBM Almaden, and the San Francisco Exploratorium. Education and Human Resource Development (including an emphasis on increasing diversity) will be integrated into CCC through multiple activities; high school students and teachers from San Francisco Unified School District and across the Bay Area will be recruited to participate in summer instructional "Boot Camp" experiences, and 10-20 undergraduate research internships will be offered to students (especially under-represented minorities) from San Francisco State University, City College of San Francisco, and UC Santa Cruz. Public engagement with center activities will involve Science Festivals, Maker Faires, Hackathons and (through partnership with the Exploratorium) Science Museum Exhibits.

CCC will focus on five projects, from basic research to real-world applications, integrated to permit CCC to implement iterative "design-build-test" cycles of living cellular machines. The first project, a Cellular Machine Shop/Core, will create an inventory of high throughput and modular tools for cell engineering that will enable the "build" step of the engineering "design, build, test" cycle. A set of core resources and instruments for the center community will be assembled, including high throughput and quantitative imaging systems, gene synthesis, and next generation sequencing. These will be used to assemble modules for cellular engineering in other Center projects. The second project, Computer Aided Design, will generate tools to implement a computational "design" platform for engineering cells with predictable and desired internal structure, as well as to design multi-cellular structures. The third project will create the molecular tools necessary to program multiple specialized cell types or organisms into multicellular structures capable of executing complex functions. The fourth project "Living Bioreactor" will specify the organization of intracellular and multi-cellular structures to implement new approaches to metabolic engineering by tuning organelle size to improve yield, and by creating multi-layered self-assembling/self-healing multi-kingdom cell aggregates capable of withstanding harsh conditions, resisting contamination, and facilitating harvesting of the desired products. The fifth project "Cell State Inference Engine" will create a software platform for converting images of cells into estimates of cell environment and signaling state, permitting e.g. the use of cells as living sensors of environmental conditions for real-world applications, and also providing a framework for predicting how cells transition between phenotypic states, one of the great challenges in cell biology.

More information about CCC can be found at https://ccc.ucsf.edu/.

Program contacts

Charles Cunningham
chacunni@nsf.gov (703) 292-2283 BIO/MCB