DARPA’s Living Foundries Project

DARPA 2013 budget justification is out and it updates progress on DARPA projects. (336 pages)

(Formerly part of Synthetic Biology project)
The goal of Living Foundries is to create a revolutionary, biologically-based manufacturing platform to provide new materials, capabilities and manufacturing paradigms for the DoD and the Nation. The program seeks to develop the new tools, technologies and methodologies to transform biology into an engineering practice, speeding the biological design-build-test cycle and expanding the complexity of systems that can be engineered. The goal is to enable the rapid development of previously unattainable technologies and products, leveraging biology to solve challenges associated with production of new materials, novel capabilities, fuels and medicines and providing novel solutions and enhancements to military needs and capabilities. For example, one motivating, widespread and currently intractable problem is that of corrosion/materials degradation – a challenge that costs the DoD nearly $23 billion per year and has no near term solution in sight. Living Foundries offers the potential to program and engineer biology, and enable the capability to design and engineer systems that rapidly and dynamically prevent, seek out, identify and repair corrosion/materials degradation. Ultimately, Living Foundries aims to provide game-changing manufacturing paradigms for the DoD, enabling distributed, adaptable, on-demand production of critical and high-value materials, devices and capabilities in the field or on base. Such a capability will decrease the DoD’s dependence on tenuous material and energy supply chains that could be cut due to political change, targeted attack or environmental accident. Living Foundries aims to do for biology what very-large-scale integration (VLSI) did for the semiconductor device industry – i.e. enable the design and engineering of increasingly complex systems to address and enhance military needs and capabilities.

Living Foundries will develop and apply an engineering framework to biology that decouples biological design from fabrication, yields design rules and tools, and manages biological complexity through simplification, abstraction and standardization. The result will be to enable the design and implementation of complex, higher-order genetic networks with programmable functionality and DoD applicability. Research thrusts include developing the fundamental tools, capabilities and methodologies to accelerate the biological design-build-test cycle, thereby reducing extensive cost and time it takes to engineer new systems and expanding the complexity and accuracy of designs that can be built. Specific tools and capabilities include: interoperable tools for design, modeling, and automated fabrication; modular regulatory elements devices and circuits for hierarchical and scalable engineering; standardized test platforms and chassis; and novel approaches to process measurement, validation and debugging. Applied research for this program continues in FY 2013 in PE 0602715E, project MBT-02.

Previous funding under different project and other research and development are under other projects.
FY 2013 – $10 million

FY 2011 Accomplishments:
– Began development of high-level design and compilation techniques for programming, constructing and modeling synthetic genetic regulatory networks.
– Initiated characterization and testing of genetic parts and regulators and their assembly into simple circuits to begin to demonstrate ability to design and build workable and robust designs.
– Began the design and development of automation software and components for automated assembly of engineered systems.

FY 2012 Plans:
– Continue development of high-level design, automation and construction tools to increase the efficiency, sophistication, and scale of possible designs.
– Continue the design and development of modular regulatory elements, parts and devices necessary to build hierarchical, complex genetic networks.
– Initiate development of orthogonal parts, devices circuits and systems in order to mitigate system cross-talk.
– Initiate investigation, design, and development of standard test platforms and chassis that predictably interact with new genetic circuitry.
– Initiate design and development of new quantitative, high-throughput measurement and debugging tools to test and validate the operation of synthetic regulatory networks.

FY 2013 Plans:
– Continue development of standardized test platforms and chassis and begin modeling studies to predict platform behavior.
– Continue development of orthogonal genetic networks to demonstrate ability to limit cross-talk with native systems.
– Begin designing, constructing, modeling, and testing of large scale, hierarchical genetic networks to demonstrate ability to do forward engineering of systems and functions.
– Continue development and testing of characterization and debugging tools for synthetic regulatory networks.

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