From DARPA’s Website: Living Foundries
Current approaches to engineering biology rely on an ad hoc, laborious, trial-and-error process, wherein one successful project often does not translate to enabling subsequent new designs. As a result, the state of the art development cycle for engineering a new biologically manufactured product often takes 7+ years and tens to hundreds of millions of dollars (e.g. microbial production of artemisinic acid for the treatment of malaria and the non-petroleum-based production 1,3-propanediol).
Transforming biology into an engineering practice would enable on-demand production of new and high-value materials, devices and capabilities for the Department of Defense (DoD) and address complex challenges that today have no or few solutions.
The Living Foundries Program seeks to create the engineering framework for biology, speeding the biological design-build-test cycle and expanding the complexity of systems that can be engineered. The Program aims to develop new tools, technologies and methodologies to decouple biological design from fabrication, yield design rules and tools, and manage biological complexity through abstraction and standardization. These foundational tools would enable the rapid development of previously unattainable technologies and products, leveraging biology to solve challenges associated with production of new materials, novel capabilities, fuel and medicines. For example, one motivating, widespread and currently intractable problem is that of corrosion/materials degradation. The DoD must operate in all environments, including some of the most corrosively aggressive on Earth, and do so with increasingly complex heterogeneous materials systems. This multifaceted and ubiquitous problem costs the DoD approximately $23 Billion per year. The ability to truly program and engineer biology, would enable the capability to design and engineer systems to rapidly and dynamically prevent, seek out, identify and repair corrosion/materials degradation.
Accomplishing this vision requires an approach that is more than multidisciplinary – it requires a new engineering discipline built upon the integration of new ideas, approaches and tools from fields spanning computer science and electrical engineering to chemistry and the biological sciences. The best innovations will introduce new architectures and tools into an open technology platform to rapidly move new designs from conception to execution. Performers must ensure and demonstrate throughout the program that all methods and demonstrations of capability comply with national guidance for manipulation of genes and organisms and follow all guidance for biological safety and Biosecurity.
A Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) solicitation for phase one, Advanced Tools and Capabilities for Generalizable Platforms (ATCG), closed in November, 2011. The BAA called for the development of the advanced, translatable tools and capabilities that will make up an end-to-end technology platform for rapidly, safely and predictably engineering biological production systems. The goals of these advanced tools and capabilities are to compress the biological design-build-test cycle by at least 10x in both time and cost while increasing the complexity of the systems that can be designed and executed by orders of magnitude. These advancements should enable the ability to rapidly design and build new systems to create novel capabilities and to address complex challenges.