Bioengineering & Systems Biology

Faculty in mechanical engineering pursue a wide spectrum of research in the areas of BioEngineering, Biophysics and Systems Biology. Through collaborative research, important problems in biotechnology development, biosystems analysis, quantitative biology and medicine are tackled using a combination of theoretical, computational and experimental approaches. This work is inherently interdisciplinary incorporating approaches from most branches of engineering, computer science, physics, applied math and biology.

Research Themes in Bioengineering & Systems Biology

Research projects are organized into several coherent themes. One such theme focuses on understanding the mechanics of biological systems, to advance our fundamental knowledge of living matter while developing of new classes of bio-inspired materials. By incorporating key concepts and methods from physics, solid mechanics, materials science, and MEMS, new insight into the activity and regulation of a variety of biological systems can be achieved. This research seeks to not only characterize biomaterials properties, but to connect macroscale responses to molecular and microscale properties through multiscale modeling and experimentation.

Recent efforts have focused on understanding mechanochemical coupling in single protein enzymes, the mechanism of cell adhesion, vesicular trafficking in nerve axons, the origins of the cytoskeletal strength, actin stress fiber formation in motile and adherent cells, and embryonic tissue mechanics and morphogenesis. Additionally, there are a number of projects focused on using natural systems to inspire new classes of synthetic materials. Examples include bioinspired wet and dry adhesives, based on mussel and gecko glues, respectively, as well as the development of microstructured synthetic abalone shells.

A second theme focuses on the development of novel microfluidic and nanofluidic devices to create next generation technologies for sensing, sorting and analyzing biological molecules. These high-throughput technologies are essential to gathering the data required for systems-wide analyses of genomic or proteomic profiles, as well as identifying and characterizing rare but important biological events. The development of innovative, analytical MEMS-based biotechnologies will also enable a broad range of molecular diagnostics and therapeutics, including applications to personalized medicine.

UCSB Engineering is home to world-class facilities in micro- and nano-scale fabrication and analysis, including ~25,000 square feet of clean room space, and core facilities for molecular imaging, protein expression/purification, cell culture, and genomic analysis. Recent efforts have focused on device development for genomic testing, biomolecular separation, cell sorting, characterization of protein binding kinetics, and rapid directed evolution, as well as the use of nucleic acids as chemo-mechanical sensors.

A third theme involves theoretical and computational modeling of dynamic biological systems, research that leverages expertise in physics, systems analysis, dynamics, control, and computation--all foundational areas for systems biology. New computational methods are being developed to study stochastic phenomena arising in the biological sciences, including cell membrane dynamics, motor protein activity, and gene regulation via aptamer formation. Dynamical systems theory is applied to understanding the response of neural populations, the dynamics of natural and artificial swarms, the flocking of cells, as well as the super molecular assembly of proteins. Multiscale simulation methods are also being developed to analyze biochemical networks. These simulations allow modeling of the unfolded protein response in the endoplasmic reticulum, stochastic and deterministic analysis of circadian clocks, spatial stochastic simulation of cellular polarization in yeast mating, and the multiscale computational modeling of metabolic insulin signaling pathways.

Ph.D. students interested in BioEngineering and Systems Biology are encouraged to complete the interdisciplinary bioengineering emphasis offered in collaboration with the UCSB Center for BioEngineering. This emphasis provides training in molecular-, cellular-, and tissue-level bioengineering to students drawn from all engineering disciplines.

Related Institutes and Centers at UCSB

California NanoSystems Institute
Center for Bio-Image Informatics
Center for BioEngineering
Center for Control, Dynamical Systems, and Computation
Center for Stem Cell Biology and Engineering
Institute for Collaborative Biotechnologies
Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics
Materials Research Laboratory
Neuroscience Research Institute
Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute