Faculty Reza Ghodssi
National Science Foundation
This is a three-year, $1.5M project. The goal of the RE-BIONICS project (Redox-enabled Bio-Electronics based on Molecular Communication) is to create first-of-kind bioelectronics devices that will mediate the rapid and facile information exchange between biology and electronics. These devices will have the potential to transform healthcare, enabling tele-monitoring and remote/autonomous drug delivery and facilitating environmental monitoring in agriculture and cyber-defense where connecting biological phenomena with electronics are important. The technical underpinnings of this work recognize that microelectronic devices depend on electrons for information processing while biology depends on molecules (e.g., insulin, antibodies). These systems are not intrinsically compatible as there are no free electrons in biology that could be transmitted to biological wires and control cell-based electronic circuits. Instead, biohybrid devices are envisioned that transmit information across this electron-molecule divide. New interfaces are needed that accept molecules from biology and create electrons for devices and the reverse. Such integrated systems designed and constructed within RE-BIONICS will be capable of this bidirectional communication for memory and computation. The project will build the components and information theory needed to construct biohybrid devices that could eventually be embedded within a biological system and provide electronic control. In addition to building capabilities for designing and constructing completely new biodevices, a most important aspect of this work is that it will bring together researchers and stakeholders from many disciplines, including biology, chemistry, materials science, and computer, electrical, chemical, and bioengineering. The project builds on the interdisciplinary nature of the project with Research Team from computer science, electrical engineering and bioengineering. The research thrusts span computer science and information theory, microelectromechanical systems, biofabrication and redox biology, and synthetic biology. Also, two interdisciplinary teams of undergraduate students from UMD and UNL will participate in the international Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) program and competition, and participate in specific outreach activities targeting Middle and High school students within the Future Problem Solving Program (FPSPI) at UNL. Further, this project will promote the participation of women, historically underrepresented in electrical engineering, representing more than majors in biology and bioengineering. RE-BIONICS researchers will also interact with federal agencies including NIST, FDA, and the Army Research Laboratory, gaining exposure to manufacturing and regulatory issues, as well as direct application areas such as national security.
This project exploits reduction-oxidation (redox) mediators that are the biological equivalents of free electrons in electronics. The reactions represent packets of information transferred within biology. The project is organized into three specific aims. In Aim 1, the team will design, build and test device elements that facilitate information transfer from molecules of biological systems to electrons of microelectronic systems and the reverse. Using the principles of synthetic biology, bacterial cells will be engineered to recognize small signaling molecules, an example being pyocyanin that is secreted by opportunistic pathogen, Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Based on this recognition, these and other engineered sensing cells will produce -galactosidase, an enzyme that can be electrochemically quantified. In addition, cells will be engineered to accept electrons from devices and in a programmed manner, "turn on" gene expression that can modulate cell behavior. In Aim 2, the team will design and construct a biological read/write memory device, based on the biopolymer melanin, that can be accessed both biologically and electronically. In Aim 3, the team will integrate these elements creating biohybrid circuits, such as bioelectric logic gates, and biologic to electronic to biologic signaling systems, culminating in an electronically-controlled device that interprets molecular information, computes desired outcomes and electronically actuates cells to signal and control biological populations. There are three fundamentally novel aspects to this work. First, it will demonstrate the potential to transfer information from biological systems to microelectronic systems and the reverse, forming the basis for bioelectronic integrated computing systems. Second, it will demonstrate electronically-controlled synthesis of a novel, reliable and stable biological memory device. Third, it will develop a technological framework for the development of bio-hybrid computing devices that efficiently sense and process chemical information as well as operate within and control complex biological systems.