The Advanced Plant Technologies (APT) program seeks to develop plants capable of serving as next-generation, persistent, ground-based sensor technologies to protect deployed troops and the homeland by detecting and reporting on chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive (CBRNE) threats. Such biological sensors would be effectively energy-independent, increasing their potential for wide distribution, while reducing risks associated with deployment and maintenance of traditional sensors. These technologies could also potentially support humanitarian operations by, for example, detecting unexploded ordnance in post-conflict settings.
DARPA’s technical vision for APT is to harness plants’ innate mechanisms for sensing and responding to environmental stimuli, extend that sensitivity to a range of signals of interest, and engineer discreet response mechanisms that can be remotely monitored using existing ground-, air-, or space-based hardware. To succeed, APT must ensure that modified plants are safe, robust, and self-sustaining in their environments. The program hinges on the advancement of technologies for performing multiple, complex modulations to plants, without sacrificing their environmental fitness.
Although APT pursues technology for eventual deployment, the initial research is conducted entirely in contained facilities. If the research is successful, later-phase field trials would take place under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service following all standard protocols for plant biosafety.
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