The Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is the governmnet division that tries to take cutting-edge technology and turn it into something the military can use. The agency’s latest target? Genetic engineering.
The Foundry is a facility which is part of the Broad Institute, a joint MIT-Harvard biomedical research institute. It started work on a project involving “assembling massive genetic systems involving many genes” two years ago, with $US7 million in seed funding from DARPA; now that the theory has been proved, DARPA is pouring in a lot more money, in the form of a $US32 million contract.
What kind of stuff are they trying to achieve at the Foundry? Well, no-one’s talking about genetically enhanced soldiers just yet. Rather, the focus is on things like agriculture and medicine: for example, reengineering genomes to change the baterial processes that convert nitrogen in the air to ammonia, reducing the need to fertizile crops.
It’s an exciting technology with virtually endless potential applications; funding from anywhere, even the creepy arm of military research, should help advance the project. Just keep an eye out for any of the Marvel comic villains in the meantime.