Modern Chemical Engineering was born around the end of the 19th century in Great Britain, Germany, and the USA, the most industrialized countries at that time. Milton C. Whitaker, in 1914, affirmed that the difference between Chemistry and Chemical Engineering lies in the capability of chemical engineers to transfer laboratory findings to the industrial level. Since then, Chemical Engineering underwent huge transformations determining the detachment from the original Chemistry nest. The beginning of the sixties of the 20th century saw the development of a new branch of Chemical Engineering baptized Biomedical Engineering by Peppas and Langer and that now we can name Biological Engineering. Interestingly, although Biological Engineering focused on completely different topics from Chemical Engineering ones, it resorted to the same theoretical tools such as, for instance, mass, energy and momentum balances. Thus, the birth of Biological Engineering may be considered as a Darwinian evolution of Chemical Engineering similar to that experienced by mammals which, returning to water, used legs and arms to swim. From 1960 on, Biological Engineering underwent a considerable evolution as witnessed by the great variety of topics covered such as hemodialysis, release of synthetic drugs, artificial organs and, more recently, delivery of small interfering RNAs (siRNA). This review, based on the activities developed in the frame of our PRIN 2010-11 (20109PLMH2) project, tries to recount origins and evolution of Chemical Engineering illustrating several examples of recent and successful applications in the biological field. This, in turn, may stimulate the discussion about the Chemical Engineering students curriculum studiorum update.

Keywords: Biological engineering, chemical engineering, evolution, siRNA delivery.

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