Biological Engineering research at Caltech focuses on the application of engineering principles to the design, analysis, construction, and manipulation of biological systems, and on the discovery and application of new engineering principles inspired by the properties of biological systems. Caltech has played and continues to play a leading role in establishing new areas of inquiry including molecular programming, synthetic biology, engineering immunity, synthetic development, quantitative spatial biology, and neuroengineering. The Donna and Benjamin M. Rosen Bioengineering Center supports bioengineering research through the funding of fellows and research projects across many disciplines. Areas of research include:
New bioimaging technologies leverage bioengineering advances to offer biologists increasingly incisive windows into the spatial organization of complex biological circuitry in an anatomical context. Caltech researchers are pioneering technologies for multiplexed, quantitative, high-resolution imaging of genetic expression in thick autofluorescent samples, as well as for genome-scale spatial biology. Topics include biophotonics, advanced imaging technologies, computational image analysis, noninvasive biomedical imaging, single-molecule technologies, flow-field imaging technologies, and in situ amplification.
Additional resources for research in this area are available through the Biological Imaging Facility within the Beckman Institute.
Up to now, planet Earth's environment (including climate, flora and fauna) has evolved mostly governed by ‘natural laws' (physics, random mutation, natural selection, competition of species, symbiosis etc.). Increasingly, Earth's environment is affected by human activity. One of the greatest challenges facing scientists and engineers today is how to contribute to mitigating and adapting to climate change. At this point humanity needs knowledge to make informed choices, and technology to have better options. Caltech's interdisciplinary strength allows biologists and bioengineers interested in environmental sustainability to collaborate with like-minded scientists across the institute to work towards innovative solutions.
Additional resources for research in this area are available through the Ecology and Biosphere Engineering (EBE) initiative within the Resnick Sustainability Institute and through our partnership with the Carnegie Institution for Science (Division of Biosphere Science and Engeineering).
Cell and Tissue Engineering
Synthetic development is a grand challenge for biological engineering, requiring insights into feedback between gene expression and mechanical force across cells, tissues, organs, and organisms. Caltech researchers study cell and tissue engineering across a range of organisms, from microbes, to plants and insects, to mammals. Active areas of research include multi-cellular morphodynamics, principles of feedback between tissue mechanics and genetic expression, non-natural protein biomaterials, cell-bio material interactions, developmental patterning, regeneration biology, and synthetic embryos.
Molecular Medicine and Diagnostics
Combining new molecular engineering capabilities with new therapeutic and diagnostic paradigms holds the potential to transform medicine. Researchers at Caltech are pursuing new therapeutic and diagnostic concepts ranging from mutation-robust vaccine platforms to cell-selective treatment via dynamic RNA nanotechnology, from engineered immunotherapies to sensitive instrument-free at-home testing for pathogens. Topics include engineering immunity, cancer vaccines, AIDS vaccine, novel anti-cancer therapeutics, Parkinson's disease, nicotine addiction, microbiome perturbations in disease, molecular basis of autism, programmable chemotherapies, conditional chemotherapies, and nanoparticle drug delivery.
Neuroengineering involves the development of engineering techniques to understand, interact with, and influence neural function. Caltech is a leader in the development of brain-machine interfaces, electrophysiology, and methods for understanding and developing therapies for neurological diseases. Active areas of research include genetic tools for activating, silencing, and tracing neural circuits; optogenetic applications; multi-electrode devices; wireless recording; large-scale data analysis; computational modeling.
Additional resources for research in this area are available through the Brain Machine Interface Center in the Chen Institute for Neuroscience and the Caltech Neurotechnology Center, part of the Beckman Institute.
Synthetic Biology and Molecular Programming
Over the coming decades, synthetic biology is poised to generate transformative programmable molecular and cellular technologies addressing challenges to science and society ranging from neuroscience and development, to diagnosis and treatment, and from renewable energy to sustainable manufacturing. Synthetic biology research at Caltech is explored at every level from nucleotide, to amino acid, to gene, to gene circuit, to genome, to ecosystem. The emerging discipline of molecular programming is jointly inspired by the remarkable programmable molecular circuits and devices that orchestrate life and by the transformative impact of computer science on technology and society. Molecular programmers at Caltech seek to develop the principles and practice for a new engineering discipline that will enable the function of molecules to be programmed with the ease and rigor that computers are programmed today, while achieving the sophistication, complexity, and robustness evident in the programmable DNA, RNA, and protein machinery of biology.