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DARPA Grants Wyss Institute Researchers up to $4.7M for Gut Microbiome Research

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has awarded a grant for up to $4.7 million and  two-and-a-half years to researchers at the Wyss Institute to develop genetically engineered probiotics that can sense, report on, and fight harmful microbes in the gut.

Led by Wyss scientists Pamela Silver, Jeffrey Way, and Donald Ingber, the team will create communities of genetically engineered bacteria that can be delivered to help people recover more quickly from gastrointestinal illnesses.

In addition to travelers abroad who may develop stomach issues from consuming dirty food or water, gastrointestinal illness is a big problem for theUSmilitary, Silver said in a statement. "There are lots of troops who are down for a period of time upon deployment overseas, which has implications for safety and strategy, especially in the most severe cases when troops must be returned home for treatment."

The scientists will engineer the bacteria to detect the chemical signatures given off by gastrointestinal inflammation. If they detect inflammation, genetic circuits programmed into the bacteria will trigger an attack on pathogenic microbes to restore healthy equilibrium in the gut.

The synthetic bacteria will only activate in response to specific chemical signals, like those found inside an inflamed human GI tract. The collaboration will use gut-on-a-chip technology developed by Ingber to model gut inflammation, using living human cells as a backdrop to study the pathogens' response to the engineered microbes.

The collaboration will also include Georg Gerber and Lynn Bry of Brigham and Women's Hospital to carry out in vivo studies and Daniel Gibson of the J. Craig Venter Institute, an expert on synthetic bacterial genomes. 

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