Biological engineering

Biological engineering or bioengineering is the application of principles of biology and the tools of engineering to create usable, tangible, economically-viable products.[1] Biological engineering employs knowledge and expertise from a number of pure and applied sciences,[2] such as mass and heat transfer, kinetics, biocatalysts, biomechanics, bioinformatics, separation and purification processes, bioreactor design, surface science, fluid mechanics, thermodynamics, and polymer science. It is used in the design of medical devices, diagnostic equipment, biocompatible materials, renewable energy, ecological engineering, agricultural engineering, process engineering and catalysis, and other areas that improve the living standards of societies.

Examples of bioengineering research include bacteria engineered to produce chemicals, new medical imaging technology, portable and rapid disease diagnostic devices, prosthetics, biopharmaceuticals, and tissue-engineered organs.[3][4] Bioengineering overlaps substantially with biotechnology and the biomedical sciences in a way analogous to how various other forms of engineering and technology relate to various other sciences (such as aerospace engineering and other space technology to kinetics and astrophysics).

In general, biological engineers attempt to either mimic biological systems to create products, or to modify and control biological systems. Working with doctors, clinicians, and researchers, bioengineers use traditional engineering principles and techniques to address biological processes, including ways to replace, augment, sustain, or predict chemical and mechanical processes.[5][6]


Biological engineering is a science-based discipline founded upon the biological sciences in the same way that chemical engineering, electrical engineering, and mechanical engineering[7] can be based upon chemistry, electricity and magnetism, and classical mechanics, respectively.[8]

Before WWII, biological engineering had begun being recognized as a branch of engineering and was a new concept to people. Post-WWII, it grew more rapidly, and the term "bioengineering" was coined by British scientist and broadcaster Heinz Wolff in 1954 at the National Institute for Medical Research. Wolff graduated that year and became the director of the Division of Biological Engineering at the university. This was the first time Bioengineering was recognized as its own branch at a university. Electrical engineering was the early focus of this discipline, due to work with medical devices and machinery during this time.[9]

When engineers and life scientists started working together, they recognized that the engineers didn't know enough about the actual biology behind their work. To resolve this problem, engineers who wanted to get into biological engineering devoted more time to studying the processes of biology, psychology, and medicine.[10]

More recently, the term biological engineering has been applied to environmental modifications such as surface soil protection, slope stabilization, watercourse and shoreline protection, windbreaks, vegetation barriers including noise barriers and visual screens, and the ecological enhancement of an area. Because other engineering disciplines also address living organisms, the term biological engineering can be applied more broadly to include agricultural engineering.

The first biological engineering program in the United States was started at University of California, San Diego in 1966.[11] More recent programs have been launched at MIT[12] and Utah State University.[13] Many old agricultural engineering departments in universities over the world have re-branded themselves as agricultural and biological engineering or agricultural and biosystems engineering. According to Professor Doug Lauffenburger of MIT,[12][14] biological engineering has a broad base which applies engineering principles to an enormous range of size and complexities of systems, ranging from the molecular level (molecular biology, biochemistry, microbiology, pharmacology, protein chemistry, cytology, immunology, neurobiology and, neuroscience) to cellular and tissue-based systems (including devices and sensors), to whole macroscopic organisms (plants, animals), and even to biomes and ecosystems.


The average length of study is three to five years, and the completed degree is signified as a bachelor of engineering (B.S. in engineering). Fundamental courses include thermodynamics, biomechanics, biology, genetic engineering, fluid and mechanical dynamics, chemical and enzyme kinetics, electronics, and materials properties.[15][16]


Modeling of the spread of disease using Cellular Automata and Nearest Neighbor Interactions

Depending on the institution and particular definitional boundaries employed, some major branches of bioengineering may be categorized as (note these may overlap):


  • Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET),[21] the U.S.-based accreditation board for engineering B.S. programs, makes a distinction between biomedical engineering and biological engineering, though there is much overlap (see above).
  • American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE) is made up of 1,500 members. Their main goal is to educate the public about the value biological engineering has in our world, as well as invest in research and other programs to advance the field. They give out awards to those dedicated to innovation in the field, and awards of achievement in the field. (They do not have a direct contribution to biological engineering, they more recognize those who do and encourage the public to continue that forward movement).[22]
  • Institute of Biological Engineering (IBE) is a non-profit organization, they run on donations alone. They aim to encourage the public to learn and to continue advancements in biological engineering. (Like AIMBE, they do not perform research directly; however, they offer scholarships to students who show promise in the field).[23]
  • Society for Biological Engineering (SBE) is a technological community associated with the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE). SBE hosts international conferences, and is a global organization of leading engineers and scientists dedicated to advancing the integration of biology with engineering.[24]


  1. Abramovitz, Melissa (2015). Biological engineering. Gale Virtual Reference Library. p. 10. ISBN 978-1-62968-526-7.
  2. Herold, Keith; Bentley, William E.; Vossoughi, Jafar (2010). The Basics of Bioengineering Education. 26Th Southern Biomedical Engineering Conference, College Park, Maryland. p. 65. ISBN 9783642149979.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location (link)
  3. "What is Bioengineering?". Retrieved 2018-07-21.
  4. "MSB: About the Munich School of BioEngineering". Retrieved 2020-02-03.
  5. Pasotti, Lorenzo; Zucca, Susanna (2014-08-03). "Advances and Computational Tools towards Predictable Design in Biological Engineering". Computational and Mathematical Methods in Medicine. 2014: 369681. doi:10.1155/2014/369681. PMC 4137594. PMID 25161694.
  6. Sheffield, University of. "What is bioengineering? - Bioengineering - The University of Sheffield". Retrieved 2018-07-21.
  7. Abramovitz, Melissa (2015). Biological Engineering. Gale Virtual Reference Library. p. 18. ISBN 978-1-62968-526-7.
  8. Cuello JC, Engineering to biology and biology to engineering, The bi-directional connection between engineering and biology in biological engineering design, Int J Engng Ed 2005, 21, 1-7
  9. Medical & biological engineering. Oxford ; New York: Pergamon Press. 1966–1976.
  10. Naik, Ganesh R., ed. (2012). Applied biological engineering : principles and practice. Rijeka: InTech. ISBN 9789535104124.
  11. "Founder of UCSD Bioengineering Program". 1 Mar 2004. Retrieved 22 May 2018.
  12. "MIT, Department of Biological Engineering". Retrieved 16 April 2015.
  13. "Utah State University, Department of Biological Engineering". Retrieved 2011-11-13.
  14. "MIT Directory, Doug Lauffenburger". Retrieved 15 April 2015.
  15. Linsenmeier RA, Defining the Undergraduate Biomedical Engineering Curriculum
  16. Johnson AT, Phillips WM (1995). "Philosophical foundations of biological engineering". Journal of Engineering Education. 1995 (84): 311–318. doi:10.1002/j.2168-9830.1995.tb00185.x.
  17. "Bioengineering". Encyclopedia Britannica.
  18. "Convention on Biological Diversity". 13 May 2016. Retrieved 27 April 2018.
  19. Vincent, Julian F.V; Bogatyreva, Olga A.; Bogatyrev, Nikolaj R.; Bowyer, Adrian; Pahl, Anja-Karina (2006). "Biomimetics: its practice and theory". Journal of the Royal Society Interface. 3 (9): 471–482. doi:10.1098/rsif.2006.0127. PMC 1664643. PMID 16849244.
  20. "Bioprinting". Retrieved 1 May 2018.
  21. ABET Accreditation, accessed 9/8/2010.
  22. "AIMBE About Page".
  23. "Institute of Biological Engineering". Retrieved 20 April 2018.
  24. "The Society for Biological Engineering". 28 February 2012. Retrieved 21 August 2019.
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