Defense Advanced Research Projects AgencyTagged Content List

Harness Biological Systems

Leveraging genetic technologies to engineer synthetic or natural organisms

Showing 37 results for Bio-systems RSS
The goal of the Engineered Living Materials (ELM) program is to develop living materials that combine the structural properties of traditional building materials with attributes of living systems, including the ability to rapidly grow, self-repair, and adapt to the environment. Living materials represent a new opportunity to leverage engineered biology to solve existing problems associated with the construction and maintenance of our built environments, as well as new capabilities to craft smart infrastructure that dynamically responds to the surroundings.
Agricultural food production is a fundamental human activity that contributes to defense preparedness, social stability, and economic vitality. However, food production can be jeopardized by natural and man-made threats such as viruses, pests, fungi, herbicides, drought, pollution, salinity, flooding, and frost. Traditional agricultural threat responses—crop rotation, selective breeding, pesticides, slash-and-burn clearing, and quarantine—offer some protection, but are not ideal for facing unexpected or rapidly emerging threats, and are not well suited for securing mature plants. The Insect Allies program seeks to provide an alternative to these traditional responses, using targeted gene therapy to protect mature plants within a single growing season.
Living Foundries seeks to transform biology into an engineering practice by developing the tools, technologies, methodologies, and infrastructure to increase the speed of the biological design-build-test-learn cycle while significantly decreasing the cost and expanding the complexity of systems that can be engineered. The technologies 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 inaccessible. Examples include novel materials, industrial chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and improved agricultural products.

Because DARPA’s programs push the leading edge of technology, they are sometimes society’s first notable encounter with the societal dilemmas associated with new capabilities. DARPA pursues these technologies because of their promise, and the Agency is committed to exploring domains that could leave the Nation vulnerable if not pursued. But DARPA’s leadership and team members also understand that, in this pursuit, the Agency’s work will at times raise ethical, legal, security or policy questions that cannot and should not go unaddressed.

Biological sensors often display high sensitivity, selectivity, and low false alarm rates while being fabricated and operated in dirty, noisy natural environments. Attempts to emulate these sensors synthetically have not fully met expectations. Recent evidence suggests that some biological sensors exploit nontrivial quantum mechanical effects to produce macroscopic output signals. Examples of such sensors include the highly efficient energy transfer properties of photosynthesis in plants, bacteria, and algae; magnetic field sensing used by some birds for navigation; and the ability of some animals to detect odors at the single molecule level.