• Biological Technology Office (BTO)
  • Living Foundries

    Current approaches to engineering biology rely on an ad hoc, laborious, trial-and-error process, wherein one successful project often does not translate to enabling subsequent new designs. As a result, the state of the art development cycle for engineering a new biologically manufactured product often takes 7+ years and tens to hundreds of millions of dollars (e.g. microbial production of artemisinic acid for the treatment of malaria and the non-petroleum-based production 1,3-propanediol). Transforming biology into an engineering practice would enable on-demand production of new and high-value materials, devices and capabilities for the Department of Defense (DoD) and address complex challenges that today have no or few solutions.

    The goal of the Living Foundries program is to leverage the unparalleled synthetic and functional capabilities of biology to create a revolutionary, biologically-based manufacturing platform to provide access to new materials, capabilities and manufacturing paradigms for the DoD and the Nation. Engineering biology is emerging as a powerful technology with the potential for significant impact in multiple areas, including novel materials, sensing capabilities and therapeutics. However, the present ability to harness that potential is limited by the ad hoc, trial-and-error process that defines the current SOA. Living Foundries seeks to transform biology into an engineering practice by developing the tools, technologies, methodologies, and infrastructure to speed the biological design-built-test-learn cycle and expand the complexity of systems that can be engineered.  The tools and infrastructure developed as part of this program are expected to enable the rapid and scalable development of transformative products and systems that are currently too complex to access.

    The Living Foundries program is comprised of two components, Living Foundries: Advanced Tools and Capabilities for Generalizable Platforms (ATCG) and Living Foundries: 1000 Molecules.

    The first component, Living Foundries: ATCG, began in 2012 and focuses on the development of next-generation tools and technologies for engineering biological systems with the goal of compressing the biological design-build-test-learn cycle by at least 10 times in both time and cost while at the same time increasing the complexity of systems that are created. Technical areas of interest include design and automation tools, modular genetic parts and devise, standardized test platforms and chassis, tools for rapid physical construction of biological systems, editing and manipulation of genetic designs and new characterization and debugging tools for synthetic biological networks.

    The second component of the program, Living Foundries: 1000 Molecules, builds upon the advancements and tools being developed under ATCG  to create a scalable, integrated, rapid design and prototyping infrastructure for the facile engineering of biology. This infrastructure will be defined by tools and processes to make possible a scale and sophistication of experimentation that does not exist today, and will provide a flexible, efficient and continuously improving capability to the DoD and the engineering biology community. To demonstrate the power of the capabilities being developed, the infrastructure will generate 1000 new molecules of relevance to the DoD, including chemical building blocks for accessing radical new materials that are impossible to create with traditional petroleum-based feedstocks.

    A broad agency announcement for Living Foundries: 1000 Molecules was released in July 2013.

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