Molecular Systems Engineering is a National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF), and headed by the University of Basel and the ETH Zurich. This NCCR combines expertise from chemistry, biology, physics, bioinformatics, and engineering. The overreaching aim is to develop tools and devices to monitor and manipulate off-equilibrium (bio)chemical systems. These may find applications in the synthesis of high added-value products, as innovative diagnostic tools and for the restoration of a desired cellular or organ function.
Molecular systems engineering attempts to capture the complexity and emergent properties prevalent in biology. The uniqueness of this initiative relies on the combination of both chemical- and biological modules. In this approach, complex dynamic phenomena emerge as the result of the integration of molecular modules (molecular- or biological prosthetics) designed to interact in a programmed way with their complex environment. In this manner, it should be possible to create molecular factories and cellular systems whose properties are more than sum of the attributes of the individual modules. These new system-level properties emerge through the interactions of chemical- and biological networks assembled from the individual modules.
Drawing on close to 100 researchers and support personnel, the NCCR Molecular Systems Engineering is all about interdisciplinary research, focusing on systems chemistry, systems biology and synthetic biology for the creation of chemical and biological modules integrated into molecular factories and cellular systems. Currently, three Work Packages combine research projects and unite academic and industrial support. NCCR MSE is supported by renowned life science and chemical industries.
The commitments of the leading houses also include new (joint) professorships, as well as continual education and training of young researchers to shape the next generation of scientists, leading to a long-term paradigm shift in molecular sciences and a new structure of the Swiss and international research landscape.
After the ETH Zurich established the Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering (D-BSSE) in Basel, Wolfgang Meier and Daniel Müller soon learned that the Department of Chemistry at the University of Basel and the D-BSSE had a lot in common. They started working together successfully in projects funded by the European Union.
In 2010 they decided to apply to the call for the 4th series of NCCRs by gathering research groups across Switzerland with the objective to create molecular systems and factories for the production of high added-value chemicals and develop new applications in medical diagnostics, therapy and treatment. After a two-stage evaluation procedure, on 17 December 2013, Swiss Federal Councillor Johann Schneider-Ammann announced the support for a new National Centre of Competence in Research: The NCCR Molecular Systems Engineering. On 29 August 2014, the University of Basel and ETH Zurich celebrated the kick-off for this fascinating research journey, together with representatives from all universities and institutes involved.