DARPA, the science arm of the US Department of Defense, is trying to find a way to create a streamlined manufacturing process for purpose-specific engineering of plants and animals, reports Popular Science's Rebecca Boyle. This program, called Living Foundries, "sets up an assembly line paradigm for life and its constituent parts," Boyle says. "Under this program, genetic engineering would no longer be limited to modification of existing organisms — instead, scientists would be able to concoct anything they wanted from scratch, using a suite of ingredients and processes that could apply in any situation." And DARPA's first grants for the program have just been announced — $15.5 million spread among six institutions and companies, including the J. Craig Venter Institute. This last pick is particularly appropriate, she says, given the group's work in synthetic biology.
The purpose of the grants is to build a basic library of modularized parts that can be used in assembling various organisms, Boyle says, like wires or circuits that can be used to build electronics. "The ultimate goal is a genetic starter set that could be snapped together like so many Legos, forming any system the military might require," she adds.