DARPA Carves Out New Division to Entice Biotech Talent

The U.S. Department of Defense’s research arm is making a concerted grasp at biotechnology. On 1 April, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced a new division that will consolidate biology research scattered across its existing six divisions and possibly expand the arsenal of projects. “Researchers should see this move as a recognition of the enormous potential of biological technologies,” Alicia Jackson, deputy director of the new Biological Technologies Office (BTO), told ScienceInsider in an e-mail. Whether the agency will devote a larger chunk of the roughly $2.9 billion in its requested 2015 budget to biotech programs is not yet clear.DARPA has been applying its high-risk, high-reward funding model to projects in the life sciences for years. In 1997, it announced the first big push into research on fighting biological hazards. More recently, it launched the Living Foundries program to use cells as molecular factories for making new materials. And its Defense Sciences Office (DSO) has aligned with President Barack Obama’s Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies Initiative, calling for grant applications on projects to design therapeutic devices for neurological disorders and to repair brain damage in military service members. A key player in those brain-focused programs, former DSO deputy director and neurologist Geoffrey Ling, will direct the new division. Country * Afghanistan Aland Islands Albania Algeria Andorra Angola Anguilla Antarctica Antigua and Barbuda Argentina Armenia Aruba Australia Austria Azerbaijan Bahamas Bahrain Bangladesh Barbados Belarus Belgium Belize Benin Bermuda Bhutan Bolivia, Plurinational State of Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba Bosnia and Herzegovina Botswana Bouvet Island Brazil British Indian Ocean Territory Brunei Darussalam Bulgaria Burkina Faso Burundi Cambodia Cameroon Canada Cape Verde Cayman Islands Central African Republic Chad Chile China Christmas Island Cocos (Keeling) Islands Colombia Comoros Congo Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Cook Islands Costa Rica Cote d’Ivoire Croatia Cuba Curaçao Cyprus Czech Republic Denmark Djibouti Dominica Dominican Republic Ecuador Egypt El Salvador Equatorial Guinea Eritrea Estonia Ethiopia Falkland Islands (Malvinas) Faroe Islands Fiji Finland France French Guiana French Polynesia French Southern Territories Gabon Gambia Georgia Germany Ghana Gibraltar Greece Greenland Grenada Guadeloupe Guatemala Guernsey Guinea Guinea-Bissau Guyana Haiti Heard Island and McDonald Islands Holy See (Vatican City State) Honduras Hungary Iceland India Indonesia Iran, Islamic Republic of Iraq Ireland Isle of Man Israel Italy Jamaica Japan Jersey Jordan Kazakhstan Kenya Kiribati Korea, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Republic of Kuwait Kyrgyzstan Lao People’s Democratic Republic Latvia Lebanon Lesotho Liberia Libyan Arab Jamahiriya Liechtenstein Lithuania Luxembourg Macao Macedonia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Madagascar Malawi Malaysia Maldives Mali Malta Martinique Mauritania Mauritius Mayotte Mexico Moldova, Republic of Monaco Mongolia Montenegro Montserrat Morocco Mozambique Myanmar Namibia Nauru Nepal Netherlands New Caledonia New Zealand Nicaragua Niger Nigeria Niue Norfolk Island Norway Oman Pakistan Palestine Panama Papua New Guinea Paraguay Peru Philippines Pitcairn Poland Portugal Qatar Reunion Romania Russian Federation Rwanda Saint Barthélemy Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha Saint Kitts and Nevis Saint Lucia Saint Martin (French part) Saint Pierre and Miquelon Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Samoa San Marino Sao Tome and Principe Saudi Arabia Senegal Serbia Seychelles Sierra Leone Singapore Sint Maarten (Dutch part) Slovakia Slovenia Solomon Islands Somalia South Africa South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands South Sudan Spain Sri Lanka Sudan Suriname Svalbard and Jan Mayen Swaziland Sweden Switzerland Syrian Arab Republic Taiwan Tajikistan Tanzania, United Republic of Thailand Timor-Leste Togo Tokelau Tonga Trinidad and Tobago Tunisia Turkey Turkmenistan Turks and Caicos Islands Tuvalu Uganda Ukraine United Arab Emirates United Kingdom United States Uruguay Uzbekistan Vanuatu Venezuela, Bolivarian Republic of Vietnam Virgin Islands, British Wallis and Futuna Western Sahara Yemen Zambia Zimbabwe But those disparate biology projects “percolating throughout DARPA” have now reached “critical mass,” Jackson wrote. The agency has transplanted 23 in-progress programs from other divisions to seed the BTO, and it could decide to fund new biotech effort as others age out. “We start and end(!) programs as technological opportunities arise,” she wrote.DARPA’s biology research may be more centralized now, but its interests are still far-flung. The three broad “focus areas” laid out in this week’s announcement include technology to support service members (including prosthetics and neurological therapies) and synthetic biology research such as the Living Foundries program. There’s also a more recent foray into the study of complex biological systems, from the population-wide dynamics of a disease outbreak to the way human bodies align their functions to a biological clock.The restructuring is also meant to send a message to researchers in biotech who may not have considered working with DARPA. Jackson wants to focus on recruiting new program managers—who normally serve 3- to 5-year stints—and reach out to “young researchers and start-ups who may have little idea of how to interact with DARPA or that DARPA exists at all.” Email Sign up for our daily newsletter Get more great content like this delivered right to you! Country Click to view the privacy policy. Required fields are indicated by an asterisk (*)

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