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DARPA Awards $15.6M for Synthetic Biology Machinery, Methods

This article contains a correction regarding funding to Harvard University and Stanford University.

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The US Department of Defense is pumping $15.6 million into synthetic biology research at several universities and institutes with the aim of speeding up bioengineering production.

There are eight projects being funded through the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency under this new initiative, called the Living Foundries Program. Research conducted under the program will seek to create the basic production methods and tools that will be required to make bio-engineering swifter and more accurate, and to design the blueprints for synthetic biology factories, according to DARPA.

The first grants awarded under this program include $4 million to the J. Craig Venter Institute; $3.7 million to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; $3.2 million to Stanford University; $2.2 million to the California Institute of Technology; $1 million to the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution; $910,000 to Harvard University; and $690,000 to the University of Texas at Austin.

These projects will pursue the initiative's aims of developing new tools, technologies, and methods to enable the rapid development of bioengineered products, such as new materials, novel capabilities, fuel, and medicines.

As an example, DARPA explained on its website that it would like to use bioengineering to find ways to keep materials from corroding and degrading in some of the harsh environments in which DoD operates, by developing systems to prevent, seek out, identify, and repair corrosion and degradation of materials when it happens.

The target goal of this first round of funding is to support projects that will advance tools and capabilities that will compress the biological design-build-test cycle by at least 10x in both time and cost, but also increase the complexity of the biological systems that can be designed and built.

All of the grant winners funded under the Living Foundries initiative must comply with national guidance covering the manipulation of genes and organisms, and for biosafety and biosecurity, DARPA said.

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