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TU Delft launches bionanoscience initiative

A new Bionanoscience department will be created at TU Delft. Bionanoscience concerns research at the meeting point of biology and nanotechnology meet and is as yet largely unexplored.

It is expected to become one of the key scientific fields of the 21st century. Over the next decade, TU Delft is set to invest 10 million Euro derived from strategic assets in the new Bionanoscience department, which will form part of the university’s successful Kavli Institute of Nanoscience. Last week, the Kavli Foundation also agreed to help support the initiative financially by donating 5 million US$.

Bionanoscience is the discipline where biology and nanoscience meet. The molecular building blocks of living cells are the focus of bionanoscience. The nanotechnology toolkit enables the precise depiction, study and control of biological molecules. This creates new insights into the fundamental workings of living cells. Furthermore, it is increasingly possible to use the elements of the cell, to the extent that – in a new field called synthetic biology – gene regulation systems, artificial biomolecules and nanoparticles can be developed and applied within the cells. The incorporation of new biological building blocks in cells is highly promising for applications in, for instance, industrial biotechnology and medical science. The Faculty of Applied Sciences’ new Bionanoscience department will explore the full spectrum from nanoscience to cell biology to synthetic biology, and as such will naturally and strategically complement the activities of the existing Nanoscience and Biotechnology departments.

Investment in biologically oriented fundamental research and its potential applications is of great strategic importance to TU Delft. This research field is new and has a bright future, and the research into individual cells is at the cutting edge of science and technology. Cell biology is becoming increasingly an engineering discipline: the traditional approach of the biologist is rapidly changing into that of the engineer. This is the motivation behind TU Delft’s strategic decision to add bionanoscience to its research portfolio and by doing so enhance its international position and profile.

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In addition to TU Delft’s EUR 10m contribution, last week the Kavli Foundation also decided that it is willing to donate USD 5m to the bionanoscience initiative.

The new department will work closely with the Nanoscience and Biotechnology departments and will ultimately be the same size as the existing departments in the Faculty of Applied Sciences. To this end, the next few years will see an intensive recruitment drive to attract about 15 top scientists to the department.

Initial steps have already been taken towards creating structural European cooperation: the prestigious European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg has indicated its willingness to work together with TU Delft bionanoscientists. EMBL is a major potential partner, in particular in view of the EMBL’s expertise in the field of molecular cell biology. Further discussions on cooperation will be held with representatives from EMBL during a Kavli-EMBL workshop in Delft on 12 and 13 February.

Frank Nuijens | alfa
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