New $40M funding opportunity seeks to accelerate the adoption of cell-free systems for biochemical applications

NSF Key Technologies CFIRE

Experts from academia and industry will convene to identify use-inspired opportunities to establish acceptable standards for and expand the range and capabilities of cell-free processing while reducing cost.

The U.S. National Science Foundation published a new $40 million funding opportunity designed to accelerate the adoption of cell-free systems, enable new applications of this technology and contribute to the growth of the U.S. bioeconomy. 

Over the next three years, the Advancing Cell-Free Systems Toward Increased Range of Use-Inspired Applications (CFIRE) initiative seeks to reduce the cost and increase the range of cell-free systems and develop and demonstrate their use. 

"The CFIRE initiative augments our portfolio of investments in the key technology focus areas that Congress identified in the 'CHIPS and Science Act of 2022,'" said Erwin Gianchandani, NSF assistant director for Technology, Innovation and Partnerships (TIP). "We anticipate significant breakthroughs that will accelerate the adoption of cell-free systems in areas such as advanced manufacturing, agriculture, climate resilience and environmental sustainability, and the rapid detection of hazardous chemicals."

A nascent ecosystem has formed around the ability to carry out biochemical processes in cell-free, in-vitro systems instead of in traditional cell-based, in-vivo bio-reactors. 

"While this approach has several potential advantages, such as rapid turnaround and the ability to produce biomaterials that cannot be produced in traditional cells, present-day cell-free manufacturing is significantly more expensive than cell-based methods, which limits its range of applications," said Thyaga Nandagopal, director for the TIP Division of Innovation and Technology Ecosystems. "The CFIRE initiative aims to address the key limitations of cell-free technology by identifying technical approaches that can enable ongoing cycles of improvement."

CFIRE will use the Ideas Lab process, starting with an intensive meeting that brings together multiple diverse perspectives. An Ideas Lab workshop is an interactive gathering of approximately 40 experts and stakeholders interested in collaboratively developing potential solutions and approaches to a specific problem or grand challenge. The participants will be drawn from diverse backgrounds and sectors, including a broad range of relevant expertise areas. Participation in the Ideas Lab requires acceptance of a preliminary proposal. 

To learn more, read the CFIRE funding opportunity and register for an introductory webinar on March 26, 2024, at 1 p.m. E.T.