Wikswo receives $1 million NSF award
John Wikswo, founder and director of the Vanderbilt Institute for Integrative Biosystems Research and Education and Gordon A. Cain University Professor, is the principal investigator of a $1 million award from the National Science Foundation. The object is to build a pathbreaking “robot scientist”—a fully automated microfluidic system for parallel, independent, long-duration, machine-guided experiments. The target organisms are the single-cell eukaryotic yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, commonly known as brewer’s and baker’s yeast, the bacterium Escherichia coli and other microbes used in commercial biotechnologies, and the Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cells used to produce antibody-based drugs and vaccines.
Wikswo had previously developed an award-winning MultiWell MicroFormulator to recreate in a plastic, 96-well plate the time-dependent drug concentrations that previously could be replicated only in animals. In 2020, Ross King, a professor of machine intelligence at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenberg, Sweden, and the developer of Adam and Eve, the first robot scientists, recruited Wikswo to convert the MicroFormulator into a third-generation robot scientist, Genesis, to provide King’s group with thousands of miniature, self-driving chemostats that will be used to understand yeast metabolism and signaling. Realizing that a self-driving biological laboratory has many other applications, Wikswo sought NSF funds to create a Genesis system at Vanderbilt that could be used not only for fundamental studies of yeast but also of the breadth of cells used in biotechnologies.