Defense Advanced Research Projects AgencyTagged Content List

Harness Biological Systems

Leveraging genetic technologies to engineer synthetic or natural organisms

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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.

Chemical and biological (CB) threats have become increasingly ubiquitous and diverse. They present a risk to our stability operators in pandemic outbreak scenarios, and our warfighters serving in diverse operating environments. State-of-the-art protective equipment continues to severely limit mobility and performance of the user because of a dependence upon protective garments that are thick, heavy, and cumbersome. The Personalized Protective Biosystem (PPB) program aims to reduce protective equipment needs while increasing protection against existing and future CB threats.
Pathogens with pandemic potential, toxic chemicals, and radioactive materials all endanger public health and pose a threat to national security. Despite investment in the development of medical countermeasures (MCMs) to address these threats, many existing MCMs suffer from limited applicability, insufficient efficacy, requirements for repeat dosing, lengthy and complex manufacturing processes, and logistically burdensome storage requirements. In many cases, unique threats require unique responses, setting up a “one threat, one MCM” paradigm.
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.
The Safe Genes program supports force protection and military health and readiness by protecting Service members from accidental or intentional misuse of genome editing technologies. Additional work will leverage advances in gene editing technology to expedite development of advanced prophylactic and therapeutic treatments against gene editors. Advances within the program will ensure the United States remains at the vanguard of the broadly accessible and rapidly progressing field of genome editing.