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Battelle Wins IARPA Contract to Develop Genetic Threat Identification Software

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – Battelle announced today that it has been awarded a contract by the US government's Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) to develop software to assess the threat potential of genetic sequences.

The contract was awarded as part of IARPA's Functional Genomic and Computational Assessment of Threats program, which is focused on developing methods and tools for screening nucleic acid sequences, as well as the functional annotation and characterization of genes of concern, to prevent the creation of biological threats.

Battelle said it will design software that can predict the function of a DNA fragment based only on its sequence, and which can be used to screen DNA sequences to determine whether they are related to any known organisms, predict the function of unknown sequences, and assign a threat level based on the potential for harm.

"Biotechnology is more accessible than ever, with internet-accessible products and services enabling advances in numerous industries," Trevor Petrel, director of advanced technology development at Battelle, said in a statement. "The exponential growth in capability of genetic engineering, as well as accessibility to these biological tools, requires that we rethink conventional biosecurity to evolve with the rapid pace of technology. Genetic engineering tasks that previously took weeks and considerable skill to accomplish now require less effort, skill, and technical resources."

Battelle said that it is working with industry collaborators, including Ginkgo Bioworks, One Codex, and Twist Bioscience, to develop the software and gain insights into its use in real-world settings.

The financial terms of the contract were not disclosed.

In September, IARPA awarded Signature Science a $2.9 million contract to develop new computational tools to screen DNA sequences to detect biological threats that may arise from synthetic microbial manipulation.