Designer Cells

Designer Cells Welcomes Proposals for the Second Year

In 2020, NSF’s Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences together with the Division of Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental and Transports Systems (CBET) in the Directorate for Engineering (ENG) and the Division of Social and Economic Sciences (SES) in the Directorate for Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences (SBE) launched a new solicitation, Designing Synthetic Cells Beyond the Bounds of Evolution (Designer Cells) NSF 21-531.  With this solicitation, NSF hoped to continue to support advances in building synthetic cells and leverage the success of programs like Understanding the Rules of Life: Building a Synthetic Cell. Projects submitted to the Designer Cells solicitation used synthetic biology to address at least one of the following research areas:

  1. identifying the minimal requirements for the processes of life;
  2. addressing fundamental questions in the evolution of life or to explore biological diversity beyond that which currently exists in nature;
  3. leveraging synthetic systems for innovative biotechnology applications. 

The program is now accepting proposals for its second cohort. The due date for proposals for the second year is February 1, 2022.

In its first cohort, the program made 12 awards.  These first awards explored a number of exciting themes including building synthetic organelles, exploring non-natural or synthetic approaches to information storage and decoding, and creating cells with new tunable properties.  One exciting thematic area represented in a number of 2021 Designer Cells awards was synthetic modifications that change information storage and decoding in cells.  A full list of the awards made in the first year of Designer Cells can be found here.  

In this second year of the solicitation, Program Director Anthony Garza says that he “hopes to see proposals that continue to push to boundaries of what cells can do, either by adding in new functionality, or minimizing cell components, but still getting functional synthetic cells.” Program Director Steve Peretti said he “would like to see the community exploit synthetic cell technology in new application areas.” 

Opportunities to Learn More

Garza and Peretti are holding a Virtual Office Hour on Designer Cells and other new opportunities on November 17, 2021 at 2 PM EST.  You can register here

New Solicitation: Designing Synthetic Cells Beyond the Bounds of Evolution (Designer Cells)

A new solicitation (NSF 21-531) invites proposals that use cell design technology to address questions regarding the fundamental processes of life, the evolution of life, and biological diversity beyond extant processes and organisms. Proposals which use this technology for novel biotechnology applications are also welcomed. The goal of this solicitation is to support innovative research that develops and uses synthetic cell-like systems or cells to address at least one of the following themes:

  1. identify the minimal requirements or minimal functional units for the processes of life;
  2. address fundamental questions in the evolution of life on Earth or to explore biological diversity beyond that which currently exists in nature;
  3. provide new functionalities for innovative biotechnology applications.

Proposals submitted to this solicitation should address social, ethical, and safety issues associated with designing and building synthetically modified cells as an integrated component of the project.

Full proposals are due February 16, 2021 and on February 1 annually thereafter via Research.gov. Full solicitation requirements, program priorities, and contact information for program officers can be found in the solicitation NSF 21-531.