The Biological Robustness in Complex Settings (BRICS) program aims to transform engineered microbial biosystems into reliable, cost-effective strategic resources for the Department of Defense (DoD), enabling future applications in the areas of intelligence, readiness, and force protection. Examples include the identification of the geographical provenance of objects; protection of critical systems and infrastructure against corrosion, biofouling, and other damage; sensing of hazardous compounds; and efficient, on-demand bio-production of novel coatings, fuels, and drugs.
To realize these potential applications, the BRICS program is pursuing the fundamental understanding, design principles, and component technologies needed to engineer safe, stable biosystems that function reliably in changing, minimally structured environments. Before BRICS, work in synthetic biology focused primarily on manipulating individual species of domesticated micro-organisms. Such species tend to be fragile—they require precise environmental controls to survive, and they are subject to losing their engineered advantages through genetic attrition or recombination. The costs of maintaining the required environmental controls for their survival and detecting and compensating for genetic alterations are substantial. Thus, a long-term goal of BRICS is to enable the safe transition of synthetic biological systems from well-defined laboratory environments into the more complex settings typical of DoD operations.
Safety is a priority for the program. Although BRICS seeks to develop technologies that could ultimately be deployed in the full range of environments in which DoD has interests, all work performed under the program will occur in controlled laboratory settings.
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