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Planning Grant: Engineering Research Center for Polymer Enhanced Biology - CPEB


<p>The Planning Grants for Engineering Research Centers competition was run as a pilot solicitation within the ERC program. Planning grants are not required as part of the full ERC competition, but intended to build capacity among teams to plan for convergent, center-scale engineering research.<br />
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With an expected global population nearing 10 billion by 2050, meeting food, energy, and water needs has surfaced as one of the most profound challenges of the new millennium. With new technological advances, these significant global problems that threaten the health, wealth and security of the US can be alleviated by fusing biology and polymers in a paradigm shifting approaches where polymers are part of the solution instead of part of the problem. For example, polymer-enhanced cells hold the promise to eliminate the scourge of salmonella (causing 1.2 million illnesses per year in the US alone) contamination in poultry by increasing the stability of probiotics in animal feeds. Polymer-enhanced proteins may eliminate phosphate waste products in intensive animal farming (if unresolved the phosphate waste will render land non-arable by 2050) and combat pathogens that can rapidly decimate agriculture farms. Polymer-enhanced enzymes can decontaminate pesticides at the point of use before they contaminate ground water (pesticides are now detected in over 95% of ground water). Polymer-enhanced biocatalysts may be able to finally degrade and resolve microplastic pollution of our oceans (well in excess of 10 trillion particles contaminate water sources and only 1 percent of plastics contaminating our oceans are at the surface). This planning grant will be used to assemble a large team to develop and deploy biohybrid molecules and cells as key components in transforming problems of global significance. This planning grant will be used to formulate the strategy for the team, ensuring that the work generates pioneering science that impacts society.<br />
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This planning grant will be used to assemble domain experts and use their knowledge to plan a complex team-based transformational program. They plan to build an extraordinary interdisciplinary team that tackles the major barriers that prevent fusion of biotic and abiotic systems. This grant will support the team building necessary to transform the focus areas of prediction, synthesis, characterization and utilization of biohybrids. The Strategic Planning Initiative will begin with four mini-retreats in designated Focus Areas. In each mini-retreat, a small group of specialists will meet to identify the barriers, solutions and people that will form the team. Next, two Global Impact mini-retreats will bring together leaders in polymer-enhanced biology with those in food, water and pollution threats to sustainability. The mini-retreats will serve as the starting point for the deliberations during the final planning session that will be used to develop the research, education, outreach and partnership consensus for an eventual ERC in Polymer-Enhanced Biology. Throughout the retreat and planning process, the plan is to focus on developing a comprehensive strategy in the four interconnected ERC foundational components: research, engineering workforce development, diversity/culture of inclusion, and the innovation ecosystem. The plan is to use new science and engineering to impact society through education, infrastructure, and innovation. Team-based science at the interface of chemistry and biology will deliver solutions to high priority problems of global significance.<br />
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This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.</p>

Alan Russell; Coray Colina; Tara Sabo-Attwood; Daniel Anderson; Krzysztof Matyjaszewski
Carnegie Mellon University
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