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Broad Institute-MIT Partnership Nabs $32M DARPA Contract

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – The Broad Institute said on Thursday that a genetic engineering partnership it has with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has received a five-year, $32 million Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency contract. 

The contract was awarded to the Foundry, a partnership between Broad Technology Labs (BTL) and the Synthetic Biology Center of MIT, which is developing technology for designing, testing, and manufacturing large sequences of genetic information for medical, industrial, and agriculture uses on a scale not currently possible. 

Started by Christopher Voigt, a biological engineering professor at MIT, and Robert Nicol, director of BTL, the Foundry seeks to increase the scale at which DNA can be designed and written, similar to how genomic sequencing has progressed from the decoding of a single human genome to the ability to now decipher the genomic codes of thousands of organisms, the Broad said. Since DARPA provided $7 million in seed funding two years ago to the Foundry, it has created a "pipeline for swiftly assembling massive genetic systems involving many genes," and has demonstrated its platform's viability, which can manufacture hundreds of megabases of DNA at a fraction of the time it would take with other current technologies, the Broad said. 

DARPA is funding the work as part of its "Living Foundries: 1000 Molecules" program, which is creating facilities that can rapidly engineer cells to make chemicals and materials not found in nature. 

"[P]roducts from synthetic biology have been limited to small, simple organic molecules," Voigt said in a statement. "I want to change the scale of genetic engineering to access anything biology can do."