Current and emerging Department of Defense (DoD) capabilities rely upon access to a number of critical, high-value molecules that are often prohibitively expensive, unable to be domestically sourced, and/or impossible to manufacture using traditional synthetic approaches. DARPA’s Living Foundries program aims to enable adaptable, scalable, and on-demand production of such molecules by programming the fundamental metabolic processes of biological systems to generate a vast number of complex molecules that are not otherwise accessible. Through Living Foundries, DARPA is transforming synthetic biomanufacturing into a predictable engineering practice supportive of a broad range of national security objectives.
The program includes two components: 1) Living Foundries: Advanced Tools and Capabilities for Generalizable Platforms (ATCG), and 2) Living Foundries: 1000 Molecules. The first component, Living Foundries: ATCG, completed successfully. It focused 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 ten times in both time and cost, while increasing the complexity of systems that are created. Technical areas of interest included design and automation tools, modular genetic parts and devices, 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 ongoing Living Foundries: 1000 Molecules component seeks to further refine this initial capability to significantly decrease the cost, improve the scalability, and expand the complexity of engineered systems for biomanufacturing. Efforts are focused on using automation, novel genome editing tools, and machine learning technologies to alleviate the challenges of prototyping. As a proof of concept, DARPA aims to produce 1,000 molecules and material precursors spanning a wide range of defense-relevant applications including industrial chemicals, pharmaceuticals, coatings, and adhesives that can be customized to continuously evolving DoD needs while ensuring continued leadership of the United States in the rapidly evolving field of synthetic biology.
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