THE BIG BET: SYNTHETIC BIOLOGY.

Author:Moore, Eric L.
Position:Army Research, Development and Engineering Command's Edgewood Chemical Biological Center

At the Army Research, Development and Engineering Command's Chemical and Biological Center, we're exploring the enormous potential of synthetic biology in support of the warfighter.

As the nation's premier source for chemical and biological defense solutions, we're extremely excited by the new paradigms offered by synthetic biology in the areas of chemical and biological threat detection and protection.

Synthetic biology offers the potential to unlock new types of materials by harnessing the natural abilities of living systems, such as self-assembly, sense and respond, and molecular-scale control and patterning. For the warfighter, these new materials could produce uniforms or vehicle coatings that automatically detect and respond to chemical and biological threats, new unpowered detection technologies that dramatically shrink logistical burdens, and systems to produce chemical and biological countermeasures on demand in the field.

Today, we are developing paper tickets embedded with cellular machinery that change color in response to a range of threats--from chemical and biological agents to explosives to water contaminants. This technology is one of the most mature applications of synthetic biology in the world, with others having demonstrated detection of Ebola and Zika viruses in this highly fieldable format.

We anticipate that within the next five years, synthetic biology applications in chemical and biological threat detection will become mature enough to start transitioning into the acquisition process.

Looking forward to the 10-year mark, we expect that novel materials derived from synthetic biology will start to be incorporated into deployed systems. And within 20 years, we believe smart materials with life-mimicking properties such as sense and respond and self-healing will start to be incorporated into deployed systems.

We are positioning the center to be a leader in this rapidly developing field through our...

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