June 25, 2015

DARPA wants to engineer from millions of organisms and not just yeast and ecoli

Alicia Jackson of DARPA wants to take any of the 30 million to 30 billion organisms on Earth and leverage any properties they have. She wants to quickly map it and quickly engineer them. If you look at genome annotation software today, it’s not built to quickly find engineer able systems [and genes]. It’s built to look for an esoteric and interesting thing I can publish an academic paper on.

DARPA and some of its research partners have created software called DTA GView, which Jackson calls the “Google Maps of genomes.” At the conference, she pulled up the genomes of several organisms on the program, which immediately showed a list of known genes and where they were located in the genome.

“This torrent of genomic data we’re now collecting is awesome, except they sit in databases, where they remain data, not knowledge. Very little genetic information we have is actionable,” she said. “With this, the goal is to, within a day, sequence and find where I can best engineer an organism.”

The goal is to essentially pick and choose the best genes from whatever form of life we want and to edit them into other forms of life to create something entirely new. This will probably first happen in bacteria and other microorganisms, but it sounds as though the goal may to do this with more complex, multicellular organisms in the future.

From programmable microbes to human-machine symbiosis, biological technologies are expanding our definition of technology and redefining how we interact with and use biology.

DARPA’s plan to use specifically engineered organisms to help repair environmental damage. Jackson said that after a natural or man-made disaster, it’d be possible to engineer new types of extremophile organisms capable of surviving in a scarred wasteland. As those organisms photosynthesized and thrived, it would naturally bring that environment back to health, she said.

And that’s where terraforming Mars comes in. With enough practice turning Earth’s damaged landscapes back into places hospitable for life, Jackson thinks we’ll have what it takes to eventually try to colonize the solar system

Living Foundries

The goal of the Living Foundries program is to leverage the unparalleled synthetic and functional capabilities of biology to create a revolutionary, biologically-based manufacturing platform to provide access to new materials, capabilities and manufacturing paradigms for the DoD and the Nation. Engineering biology is emerging as a powerful technology with the potential for significant impact in multiple areas, including novel materials, sensing capabilities and therapeutics. However, the present ability to harness that potential is limited by the ad hoc, trial-and-error process that defines the current SOA. Living Foundries seeks to transform biology into an engineering practice by developing the tools, technologies, methodologies, and infrastructure to speed the biological design-built-test-learn cycle and expand the complexity of systems that can be engineered. The tools and infrastructure developed as part of this program are expected to enable the rapid and scalable development of transformative products and systems that are currently too complex to access.

The Living Foundries program is comprised of two components, Living Foundries: Advanced Tools and Capabilities for Generalizable Platforms (ATCG) and Living Foundries: 1000 Molecules.

The first component, Living Foundries: ATCG, began in 2012 and focuses on the development of next-generation tools and technologies for engineering biological systems with the goal of compressing the biological design-build-test-learn cycle by at least 10 times in both time and cost while at the same time increasing the complexity of systems that are created. Technical areas of interest include design and automation tools, modular genetic parts and devise, standardized test platforms and chassis, tools for rapid physical construction of biological systems, editing and manipulation of genetic designs and new characterization and debugging tools for synthetic biological networks.

The second component of the program, Living Foundries: 1000 Molecules, builds upon the advancements and tools being developed under ATCG to create a scalable, integrated, rapid design and prototyping infrastructure for the facile engineering of biology. This infrastructure will be defined by tools and processes to make possible a scale and sophistication of experimentation that does not exist today, and will provide a flexible, efficient and continuously improving capability to the DoD and the engineering biology community. To demonstrate the power of the capabilities being developed, the infrastructure will generate 1000 new molecules of relevance to the DoD, including chemical building blocks for accessing radical new materials that are impossible to create with traditional petroleum-based feedstocks.

SOURCE - Motherboard

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