DARPA hands MIT Lab $32 million to program living cells

Christopher Voigt talking about engineering biology

…The Broad Institute Foundry, a synthetic biology laboratory at MIT, has announced its new contract with DARPA. The lab will receive $32 million for engineering cells to find better treatments for disease, make new biofuels, or create fabrics woven with life.

Living cells are the ultimate engineering substrate. They are the most difficult thing out there to be able to control,” says Christopher Voigt, professor of biomedical engineering…

“Imagine being able to engineer a living cell that can navigate the human body, identify disease, and correct that disease. That requires that the cell be able to sense where they are in the body, be able to detect it, and deliver a therapeutic. And that’s something that biology, we know it can do. But we don’t know how to harness that as part of a medicine.”

The Foundry is one of many labs working to manipulate the DNA of bacteria and other types of cells to make certain molecules—researchers have created cells that can make wood or seashells, for example. The work has mostly been limited to simple organic molecules, and progress has been slow since it takes a while for DNA to be put into cells and for those cells to mature.

With the DARPA contract, the Foundry will be able to join forces with other academics working on synthetic biology and computer science, as well as companies in various industries “including chemicals, pharmaceuticals, food, energy, agriculture, and biotechnology,” according to the press release…

The POPSCI article tries to crystal ball what the lab will come up with to keep DARPA happy. Military end-users are DARPA’s assigned market; so, a narrow view is easy. But, DARPA also has a history of supporting bona fide basic research that ended up with broad results – for example – like the Internet.

Exciting stuff.

OTOH, I imagine the conjoined left-and-right Luddites who crap their knickers over anything involving DNA, genetic manipulation, pretty much anything that triggers superstition and anti-science fears – will spend the next few years cranking up their journalistic conspiracy machine – aiming it at MIT.

3 thoughts on “DARPA hands MIT Lab $32 million to program living cells

  1. moss says:

    I really don’t understand why the Veggie Left automatically joins up with Luddites over science and food. Science is after all how we rid ourselves of so much foodborne illness. Just because militaristic governments & greediest of corporations abuse science is no reason to throw the baby out with the bath water.

    Do you stop wearing orthotics because they’re made from human made materials? Primitive living only gave us about a 30 year lifespan. Want to go back to that? Or are today’s Luddites the social equivalent of NIMBYs?

    “I’m healthy enough – you should stop experimenting and learning, now!”

    • Futureshocked says:

      “It is only when science asks why, instead of simply describing how, that it becomes more than technology. When it asks why, it discovers Relativity. When it only shows how, it invents the atom bomb, and then puts its hands over its eye and says, ‘My God what have I done?'” (Ursula K. Le Guin)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.