The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) this week issued a new Broad Agency Announcement in support of the Biological Robustness in Complex Settings (BRICS) program.
DARPA is soliciting innovative research proposals to develop fundamental understanding and component technologies to create robust engineered biological systems.
The BRICS portfolio will consist of a set of programs, of which this is the first, that aim to elucidate the design principles of engineering robust biological consortia and apply this fundamental understanding towards specific DoD applications.
The overall goal of BRICS is to develop foundational technologies that will set the field of synthetic biology on a path towards the eventual safe use of microbes that maintain their functional value in environments less stringently controlled and more complex than those in which they are cultivated today.
This current announcement calls for the development of generalizable approaches that may be ultimately integrated into a complex biological system. DARPA anticipates a second BAA at a later date comprising specific challenge scenarios that require the integration of capabilities developed within this program.
Highlighted focus areas for development include:
- Technology to create a functional, multi-species, synthetic microbial community to meet a specified function (e.g. the biosynthesis of a specific molecule or the ability to sense and respond to a substance in the environment).
- Improve the genetic stability of engineered organisms so they remain stable with respect to their engineered function but also to prevent the transfer of engineered functions to organisms in the surrounding ecosystem.
- Reduce the rate at which mutations accumulate in the synthetic population
- Mitigate the effects of any residual mutation rate on the engineered function
- Methods to genetically isolate the synthetic strains from their surroundings to manage environmental impact.
- Create engineered microbes with basal mutation rates that are reduced 100-fold relative to a wild-type strain and do not participate in events that allow genetic traits to be shared between species, such as horizontal gene transfer (HGT).
- Methods to detect when the performance of an engineered biological system is compromised.
- Methods to prevent the growth or proliferation of an engineered system in an autonomous way, with consideration for potential causes of dysfunction that could be encountered in non-laboratory ecosystems.
DARPA is hosting a BRICS BAA Proposer’s Day Conference August 21, 2014. Advance registration is required.
It is anticipated that approximately $42.5M will be awarded under the BAA, dependent upon the quality of proposals received and availability of funds.
Further details are available under Solicitation Number: DARPA-BAA-14-49. Abstracts are due September 23, 2014. Full program proposals are due December 2, 2014.