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Biological Technologies Office of DARPA seeking R&D Concepts to harness the power of Biological systems for national security

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Biological Technologies Office is seeking research-and-development concepts to help address Department of Defense requirements and other national security requirements. A FedBizOpps notice posted in April 2019  stated that BTO’s R&D scope covers a range of science and technology subject matters such as medicine, bioengineering, human-machine collaborative technologies and systems that can withstand ecological impact.

 

The mission of BTO is to foster, demonstrate, and transition breakthrough fundamental research, discoveries, and applications that integrate biology, engineering, computer science, mathematics, and the physical sciences. BTO’s investment portfolio goes far beyond life sciences applications in medicine to include areas of research such as human-machine interfaces, microbes as production platforms, and deep exploration of the impact of evolving ecologies and environments on U.S. readiness and capabilities. BTO’s programs operate across a wide range of scales, from individual cells to the warfighter to global ecosystems. BTO responds to the urgent and long-term needs of the Department of Defense (DoD) and addresses national security priorities.

 

“With our office there was a recognition that biological technologies were going to play such a crucial role in not only shaping where our country was going, but the threats coming to our country, and we needed a focused comprehensive effort going forward,”  said director of its BTO, neuroprosthetic researcher Justin Sanchez, in an interview.

 

“Biology is nature’s ultimate innovator, and any agency that hangs its hat on innovation would be foolish not to look to this master of networked complexity for inspiration and solutions.” – DARPA Director Arati Prabhakar, Testimony to Subcommittee on Intelligence, Emerging Threats and Capabilities, U.S. House of Representatives, March 26, 2014.

DARPA’s BTO  issues BAA (2019)

BTO is interested in submissions related to the following areas:

  • Discovering and leveraging novel findings from biotechnology, biochemistry, molecular biology, neuroscience, psychology, cognitive science, and related disciplines to advance treatment and resilience in neurological health and optimize human performance.
  • Understanding and improving interfaces between the biological and physical world to enable seamless hybrid systems.
  • Leveraging and translating a biological system’s underlying design rules, functional processes, and/or means of interactivity to macroscale systems.
  • Developing new tools and capabilities for forward engineering of biological systems, such as cells, tissues, organs, organisms, and complex communities, to both develop new products and functional systems, as well as to gain new insights into underlying mechanisms.
  • Developing new platform technologies that integrate, automate, and miniaturize the collection, processing, and analysis of biological and chemical samples.
  • Developing technologies that leverage ecological diversity and/or help support human operations in extreme environments (ocean, desert, space, arctic, etc.).
  • Developing and validating new theories and computational models that identify factors and principles underlying collective and interactive behaviors of biological organisms at all scales from individual cells to global ecosystems.
  • Understanding the dynamics of population and ecosystem behavior to preserve equilibrium, provide strategic opportunity, or avoid catastrophe.
  • Developing and leveraging new technologies that can be applied to agricultural ecosystems for production stabilization, by improving quality or reducing losses from pathogens or pests.
  • Developing and leveraging new insights into non-human biology across and between populations of microbes, insects, plants, marine life, and other non-human biologic entities.
  • Developing technologies to leverage biological systems and enhance the ability to acquire and maintain critical and strategic organic and inorganic materials.
  • Developing new technologies and approaches that ensure biosafety, biosecurity, biological cybersecurity of biological hardware, data, and information, and protection of the bioeconomy.
  • Understanding emerging threats to global food and water supplies and developing countermeasures that could be implemented on regional or global scales.
  • Developing new technologies to treat, prevent, and predict the emergence and spread of infectious diseases that have the potential to cause significant health, economic, and social burden.
  • Developing and leveraging technologies to advance continuous or near-continuous monitoring of an organism’s physiology to elucidate mechanisms of human resilience.
  • Developing new technologies for the rapid manufacturing, delivery and distribution of large molecule drugs such as biologics.
  • Leveraging biology to provide new tactical and strategic maritime operational advantages.
    Employing novel applications of biological components in historically engineered military systems.
  • Developing an understanding of mechanisms that organisms use to assess and interact with their environment.
    Other biological technology topic areas that fit the national security scope of BTO’s mission.

 

DARPA’s BTO  issues BAA (2017)

BTO has issued  an “open” BAA  in 2017 that “offers a mechanism for researchers to reach DARPA with an idea that may fall outside of BTO’s current priorities, but that the proposer feels could be valuable to national security.”

 

DARPA Biological Technologies Office BTO is interested in submissions related to the following areas:

  • Discovering and leveraging novel findings from neuroscience, psychology, cognitive science, and related disciplines to advance treatment and resilience in neurological health and optimize human performance.
  • Understanding and improving interfaces between the biological and physical world to enable seamless hybrid systems.
  • Developing and leveraging fundamental understanding of the underlying design rules that govern the behavior of biological systems.
  • Developing new tools and capabilities for forward engineering of biological systems, such as cells, tissues, organs, organisms, and complex communities, to both develop new products and functional systems, as well as to gain new insights into underlying mechanisms.
  • Developing new platform technologies that integrate, automate, and miniaturize the collection, processing, and analysis of biological samples.
  • Developing technologies that leverage ecological diversity and/or help support human operations in extreme environments (ocean, desert, space, etc.).
  • Developing and validating new theories and computational models that identify factors and principles underlying collective and interactive behaviors of biological organisms at all scales from individual cells to global ecosystems.
  • Understanding the dynamics of population and ecosystem behavior to preserve equilibrium, provide strategic opportunity, or avoid catastrophe.
  • Developing and leveraging new technologies that can be applied to agricultural ecosystems for production stabilization, by improving quality or reducing losses from pathogens or pests.
  • Developing and leveraging new insights into non-human biology across and between populations of microbes, insects, plants, marine life, and other non-human biologic entities.
  • Developing new technologies and approaches that ensure biosafety, biosecurity, and protection of the bioeconomy.
  • Understanding emerging threats to global food and water supplies and developing countermeasures that could be implemented on regional or global scales.
  • Developing new technologies to treat, prevent, and predict the emergence and spread of infectious diseases that have the potential to cause significant health, economic, and social burden.
  • Other biological technology topic areas that fit the national security scope of BTO’s mission.

 

Biological Technologies Office of DARPA  merges biology, engineering, and computer science to harness the power of natural systems for national security

DARPA in 2014 launched a Biological Technologies Office (BTO) dedicated to exploring the intersection of biology and the physical sciences. DARPA Director Arati Prabhakar said, “Biology has evolved from being primarily an observational science to a science that is both predictive and quantitative. More to the point, biology today has become a core science that can be developed into capabilities important for the nation’s defense. BTO seeks to harness the power of biological systems by applying the rigorous tools of engineering and related disciplines and to design next-generation technologies inspired by the life sciences.”

 

BTO’s programs will operate across a wide range of spatial and temporal scales—from individual cells to humans and other organisms and the communities in which they operate, and from the time it takes for a nerve to fire to the time it may take a new virus to spread around the world one sneeze at a time. All told, BTO will explore the intricate and highly adapted mechanisms of natural processes and demonstrate how they can be applied to the mission of national defense.

 

The mission of BTO  has now expanded to foster, demonstrate, and transition breakthrough fundamental research, discoveries, and applications that integrate biology, engineering, computer science, mathematics, and the physical sciences. BTO’s investment portfolio goes far beyond life sciences applications in medicine to include areas of research such as human-machine interfaces, microbes as production platforms, and deep exploration of the impact of evolving ecologies and environments on U.S. readiness and capabilities. BTO’s programs operate across a wide range of scales, from individual cells to the warfighter to global ecosystems. BTO responds to the urgent and long-term needs of the Department of Defense (DoD) and addresses national security priorities.

 

DARPA’s Biological Technologies Office (BTO) Thrust Areas

DARPA has reorganized itself to provide thrust to biology,the core science expected to be the future of defense technology. DARPA has created a new division, the Biological Technologies Office (BTO), to explore the increasingly dynamic intersection of biology and the physical sciences. Its goals are to harness the power of biological systems by applying the rigorous tools of engineering and related disciplines, and to design next-generation technologies that are inspired by insights gained from the life sciences.

 

“Biological Technologies Office”, shall consolidate all of its old and new biotech projects, from advanced prosthetic limbs to abstract research on viral spreading. Its goals are to harness the power of biological systems by applying the rigorous tools of engineering and related disciplines, and to design next-generation technologies that are inspired by insights gained from the life sciences.

 

The stated areas of research for the BTO are threefold to begin with. First, restoring and maintaining the health and well-being of military service service members — everything from better field care to improved prosthetics. Next, harnessing biological systems, which is to say things like biomimetic drones and armor based on beetle shells. The last seems the least immediately practical, and has to do with understanding “biological complexity at scale” by studying how diseases spread, how species adapt, and other high-level patterns.

 

“The Biological Technologies Office will advance and expand on a number of earlier DARPA programs that made preliminary inroads into the bio-technological frontier,” said Geoff Ling, named by DARPA Director Arati Prabhakar to be the first director of BTO. “We’ve been developing the technological building blocks, we’ve been analyzing our results, and now we’re saying publicly to the research and development community, ‘We are ready to start turning the resulting knowledge into practical tools and capabilities.’”

 

Research Areas

Three research focus areas reflect the scale and scope of BTO’s mission.

Restore and Maintain Warfighter Abilities:

Because military readiness depends on the health and wellbeing of service members, a critical focus is on cultivating new discoveries that help maintain peak warfighter abilities and restoring those abilities as quickly and fully as possible when they are degraded—including through the development of advanced prosthetics and neural interfaces. BTO will seek to develop new techniques and therapeutic strategies for addressing current and emerging threats, but its work will extend beyond medical applications to include exploration of complex biological issues that can affect a warfighter’s ability to operate and interact in the biological and physical world.

 

DARPA’s Systems-Based Neurotechnology for Emerging Therapies (SUBNETS) program is an example of work to restore lost function. It pursues advanced therapies to reduce the burden and severity of neuropsychological illness in afflicted troops and veterans. The Autonomous Diagnostics to Enable Prevention and Therapeutics (ADEPT) program, which seeks novel ways to identify and protect against infectious disease, is an example of work to mitigate or neutralize biological threats.

Harness Biological Systems:

The highly evolved functional and synthetic capabilities of biological systems can be harnessed to develop new products and systems in support of national security with advantages over what even the most advanced conventional chemistry and manufacturing technologies can achieve. BTO seeks to establish a fundamental understanding of natural processes and the underlying design rules that govern the behavior of biological systems, and apply that knowledge to forward-engineer new systems and products with novel functionality.

 

DARPA’s Living Foundries program, for example, is focused in part on creating a biologically based manufacturing platform to provide rapid, scalable access to new materials with novel properties that can enable a new generation of mechanical, electrical, and optical products.

 

The Chronicle of Lineage Indicative of Origins (CLIO) program, meanwhile, aims to make biological engineering safer by establishing enduring control elements that protect against intentionally harmful genetic engineering, prevent illegal acquisition or misuse of proprietary strains, provide novel forensic tools to assist in the investigation of biological incidents, and allow responsible investigators to document compliance with safe biological manipulation practices.

Apply Biological Complexity at Scale:

Biological systems operate over an enormous range of spatial, physical, and temporal scales. Some organisms thrive as individual cells but most depend on dynamic interactions with other species; humans, for example, are colonized by communities of foreign cells that greatly outnumber their own and have potentially significant but still largely mysterious impacts on metabolism, psychological state, performance, and health. A better understanding of the interactions between mammalian and non-mammalian species and micro- and macro-organisms could foster new approaches to enhancing mental and physical health in routine and threatening situations.

 

Similarly, disease vectors migrate around the globe slowly and stealthily at times, and at other times in devastating waves of breathtaking speed—reflecting poorly understood dynamics that can undermine national security. And because they are so difficult to parse from larger biological and ecological phenomena, population-level effects of relevance to agriculture and food security remain largely unplumbed. BTO is looking into pursuing new insights derived from biological complexity and living-system dynamics with the goal of developing applications to enhance global-scale stability and human wellbeing.

 

The Biochronicity program studies the role of time in biological functions. By looking for temporal instructions, or “clock signatures,” in biological organisms, the program aims to make it possible to manage the effects of time on human physiology. Because BTO programs push the leading edge of science, they will sometimes be society’s first encounter with the ethical, legal, or social dilemmas that can be raised by new biological technologies. For that reason, DARPA periodically convenes scholars with expertise in these issues to discuss relevant ethical, legal, and social issues.

 

 

Cite This Article

 
International Defense Security & Technology (September 28, 2022) Biological Technologies Office of DARPA seeking R&D Concepts to harness the power of Biological systems for national security. Retrieved from https://idstch.com/technology/biosciences/new-biological-technologies-office-at-darpa/.
"Biological Technologies Office of DARPA seeking R&D Concepts to harness the power of Biological systems for national security." International Defense Security & Technology - September 28, 2022, https://idstch.com/technology/biosciences/new-biological-technologies-office-at-darpa/
International Defense Security & Technology October 21, 2019 Biological Technologies Office of DARPA seeking R&D Concepts to harness the power of Biological systems for national security., viewed September 28, 2022,<https://idstch.com/technology/biosciences/new-biological-technologies-office-at-darpa/>
International Defense Security & Technology - Biological Technologies Office of DARPA seeking R&D Concepts to harness the power of Biological systems for national security. [Internet]. [Accessed September 28, 2022]. Available from: https://idstch.com/technology/biosciences/new-biological-technologies-office-at-darpa/
"Biological Technologies Office of DARPA seeking R&D Concepts to harness the power of Biological systems for national security." International Defense Security & Technology - Accessed September 28, 2022. https://idstch.com/technology/biosciences/new-biological-technologies-office-at-darpa/
"Biological Technologies Office of DARPA seeking R&D Concepts to harness the power of Biological systems for national security." International Defense Security & Technology [Online]. Available: https://idstch.com/technology/biosciences/new-biological-technologies-office-at-darpa/. [Accessed: September 28, 2022]

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