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Harvard's Wyss Institute Gets $3.7M Contract for 'Genetic Security' System

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Harvard University's Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering has received a $3.7 million contract from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to develop a "genetic security" system for tracking an organism's history.

The DNA-based device would be placed inside a bacterium, creating a permanent record of its historical experiences, such as its exposure to an antibiotic. Wyss compared it to the "track changes" function in a word-processing program and said that it would be analogous to biological forensic tools.

According to the institute, the system could potentially be used to track the theft of proprietary bacterial strains that have been engineered to produce products, such as biofuels or chemicals. It also could be used to enhance the security of bacteria being studied in labs and discourage misuse of biological pathogens.

"This would be one of the first DNA-based memory systems to accurately track bacteria and it represents just the kind of challenging — and potentially game-changing — work that we do best here at the Wyss Institute," Wyss Institute Founding Director Donald Ingber said in a statement.

The project will be led by Wyss Institute core faculty member Pamela Silver, who is a professor of systems biology at Harvard Medical School and the first director of Harvard's Program in Systems Biology. Co-Principal Investigators include James Collins, also a Wyss Institute core faculty member and professor of biomedical engineering at Boston University, and Jason Kelly, a founder and principal scientist at the Boston-based firm Ginkgo Bioworks.

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