The Biological Robustness in Complex Settings (BRICS) program seeks to develop the fundamental understanding and component technologies needed to engineer biosystems that function reliably in changing environments. A long-term goal is to enable the safe transition of synthetic biological systems from well-defined laboratory environments into more complex settings where they can achieve greater biomedical, industrial, and strategic potential.
The development of techniques and tools to rapidly sequence, synthesize, and manipulate genetic material has led to the rapidly maturing discipline of synthetic biology. Potential applications of synthetic biology range from the efficient, on-demand bio-production of novel drugs, fuels, and coatings to the ability to engineer microbes capable of optimizing human health by preventing or treating disease.
To date, work in synthetic biology has focused primarily on manipulating individual species of domesticated organisms. These 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 required environmental controls and detecting and compensating for genetic alterations are substantial.
If applications such as those highlighted above are to come to fruition, methods to increase the biological robustness and stability of engineered organisms must be achieved while maintaining or enhancing assurances of safety. While this program will support the development of technologies that would be prerequisite to the safe application of engineered biological systems in the full range of environments in which the Department of Defense (DoD) has interests, all work performed in this program will occur in controlled laboratory settings.
The BRICS portfolio will consist of a set of programs that aim to elucidate the design principles of engineering robust biological consortia and to apply this fundamental understanding towards specific DoD applications. The first Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) called for the development of generalizable approaches that may ultimately be integrated into a complex biological system. DARPA anticipates releasing a second BAA comprising specific challenge scenarios that require the integration of capabilities developed within this program.
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