DARPA’s new project will develop “probiotics for materials” to build protective and beneficial coatings
Bacteria are the most abundant and diverse lifeform on Earth, with the majority spending their lives in biofilms. New insights suggest biofilms could be rendered beneficial by redirecting their composition and structure.
The Biological Technologies Office (BTO) of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Arcadia program aims to develop “probiotics for materials” using microorganisms that naturally occur on DoD assets to build protective communities. These probiotics will generate robust and beneficial coatings that prevent corrosion, decrease drag, or inhibit the growth of black mold on DoD assets.
Biofilms form extensively on stored materiel, on aircraft and ship hulls, and in hard-to-reach places. Current DoD remedies (scrubbing, dry docking, fuel-tank draining for repair) have significant, long-term limitations; they must be continually applied at great expense, yielding diminishing returns. Materiel fouling and degradation could be remedied by harnessing the naturally occurring microbiota as “materiel probiotics” and providing protection from deleterious species.
Forming a stable and functional biofilm can be a balancing act since one is effectively creating a miniature ecosystem that acts like a living paint. Fortunately, recent advances in our understanding of how biofilms form and survive, combined with new tools for bacterial control, could enable the manipulation of a bacterial community toward a desired function. Arcadia will combat DoD asset degradation by generating “materiel probiotics” – biofilms with a beneficial function – via rigorous modeling of species interactions. This will require advances in the modeling of biofilm formation as well as high-speed microfluidic testbeds to grow, track, and test biofilms. Multiple strategies for biofilm generation will be examined, including assembly, where one starts with a single species followed by stepwise additions of new species and displacement, where one starts with a stable community and then displaces a problematic species with a preferred one.
The Arcadia program will focus on uses specific to the DoD Concept of Operations (CONOPS): corrosion in fuel tanks, corrosion in or on UUVs, drag on UUVs, and black mold growth on DoD assets such as stored vehicles.
In order to deliver the capabilities required by the Arcadia program, successful teams will include experts in fields such as microbiology, microbial ecology and community building, systems modeling and machine learning, surface science, materials science, corrosion, hydrodynamics, microfluidics and testbed development.
Arcadia Program Proposer’s Day
DARPA BTO will host a Proposers Day via webinar on 24 September 2021 in support of a planned Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) for the Arcadia Program. Advance registration is required. Registration closes on 21 September 2021 or when capacity is reached.
The Proposers Day will introduce the Arcadia program vision and goals to the research community; explain the mechanics of a DARPA program in general and the objectives and milestones of this program in particular; and encourage and promote teaming arrangements among organizations that have the relevant expertise, research facilities, and capabilities for executing research and development responsive to the Arcadia program goals.
Potential performers can highlight their technical capabilities through “lightning” talks such that teaming relationships can be developed. It is expected that Arcadia will require strong teaming efforts to successfully innovate and integrate critical technologies necessary to meet the metrics of the program.
Private sidebar meetings to be held virtually with the DARPA team and potential proposer teams can be scheduled beforehand on the registration website. Sidebar meetings will not provide feedback on ideas but rather will cover whether a particular approach or concept is within scope.
To maximize the pool of innovative proposal concepts, DARPA strongly encourages participation by non-traditional performers (e.g., small businesses, academic and research institutions, and first-time Government contractors).
Notice ID: DARPA-SN-21-40.