New $40M funding opportunity accelerates the translation of novel approaches to protein design to bolster the U.S bioeconomy

Experts from academia and industry will convene to identify use-inspired activities that will lead to breakthroughs in the application of protein design across a number of industries

The U.S. National Science Foundation published a new, $40 million funding opportunity designed to accelerate the translation of artificial intelligence-based approaches to protein design that will enable new applications of importance to the U.S. bioeconomy.

Over the next three years, the Use-Inspired Acceleration of Protein Design (USPRD) initiative seeks to advance protein design and its applications, with specific emphasis on the design of enzymes.

"We are delighted to add USPRD to our growing portfolio of investments in key technologies," said Erwin Gianchandani, NSF assistant director for Technology, Innovation and Partnerships (TIP). "USPRD has the potential to break down barriers to accelerating the use of AI-enabled protein design across a range of applications."

Researchers have made significant advances in predicting the 3D structure of proteins and using that information to design proteins with desired characteristics. These advances have been enabled by macromolecular modeling, repositories of training data, the application of AI and machine learning, and high-throughput protein characterization. 

"NSF aims to build on these research advances by announcing the USPRD opportunity for experts from academia and industry to jointly address the significant barriers to extending this work to enzyme design and translating it into widespread use," said Thyaga Nandagopal, division director for the TIP Division of Innovation and Technology Ecosystems, which leads the USPRD initiative.

The "CHIPS and Science Act of 2022" charged TIP with accelerating use-inspired and translational research and development to advance U.S. competitiveness in key technology focus areas. The USPRD initiative is one such investment that could contribute to U.S. leadership in protein design and its commercial application.  

USPRD will use the Ideas Lab process, an interactive workshop of approximately 40 experts and stakeholders interested in collaboratively developing potential solutions and approaches to a specific problem or grand challenge. The process will start with an intensive meeting that brings together multiple diverse perspectives. Participants will be drawn from a variety of backgrounds, sectors and relevant expertise. Participation in the Ideas Lab requires acceptance of a preliminary proposal. A key aim of the USPRD Ideas Lab will be to identify an aggressive yet attainable set of use-driven activities together with the infrastructure, designer-facing, and ecosystem components required to realize them.

Preliminary proposals are due April 26, 2024, by 5 p.m. submitter's local time. To learn more, read the USPRD funding opportunity.

Register for the "Ideas Lab: Use Inspired Acceleration of Protein Design (USPRD)" Webinar on March 14, 2024 At 1PM ET.