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July 01, 2011

DARPA wants Living foundries for mass produced Synthetic Biology

DARPA is providing $30 million towards the goal of living foundries

Through an engineering-driven approach to biology, Living Foundries aims to create a rapid, reliable manufacturing capability where multiple cellular functions can be fabricated, mixed and matched on demand and the whole system controlled by integrated circuitry, opening up the full space of biologically produced materials and systems. Key to success will be the democratization of the biological design and manufacturing process, breaking open the field to those outside the biological sciences.


In order to achieve the vision of Living Foundries, new tools, technologies and methodologies must be developed to transform biology into an engineering practice, decoupling design from fabrication and speeding the biological design, build, test cycle. These include: design tools that span from high-level description to fabrication in cells; modular genetic parts that allow a combination of systems to be designed and reproducibly assembled; methods for developing and fine-tuning new genetic parts and systems; well-understood test platforms, "cell-like" systems and chassis that readily integrate new genetic designs in a predictable fashion; next generation DNA synthesis and assembly techniques; and tools that allow for routine system characterization and debugging, among others. Further, these technological advances and innovations must be integrated to prove-out and push the boundaries of biological design towards the ultimate vision of point-of-use, on-demand, mass-customization biological manufacturing.

Wired coverage

Modular genetic parts. Kind of like Legos for biology, a standardized system of bio-units capable of being assembled in any which way would explode the possibilities for producing new materials and systems.

Something like this already exists — the Registry of Standard Biological Parts lists thousands of BioBricks, or DNA modules that control everything from breaking down chemicals to killing off cells. Expanding this open source “Williams-Sonoma catalog of synthetic biology” could lead to creations we’ve only ever dreamed of.

Darpa is also looking for design tools to map out individual projects, cell-like systems and chassis to use as templates, new test platforms and DNA-assembly techniques, and methods for fine-tuning and debugging. Basically, they want a space for biological innovation limited only by the “creativity of the designer.”

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