The same Department of Defense agency best known for developing stealth airplanes, laser-guided bombs, and the Internet, is now turning its attention to synthetic biology.
That’s right, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency — better known as DARPA — is carving out a significant portion of its $2.9 billion dollar budget to focus on genetically engineered bacteria, bionic limbs, and synthetic vaccines.
These initiatives will run through its Biological Technologies Office — their latest branch, whose operation was announced just this Thursday after spending a year in development.
With more than $300 million in funding, DARPA believes the new office will solve some of the greatest problems facing the military today — from more rapidly stabilizing battlefield injuries, to protecting troops supporting virus outbreaks such as Ebola.
This comes at a critical time when advances in precision medicine are just becoming affordable. A decade ago, it took two months to have your genome sequenced, at extraordinary cost. Today, we can map a single human genome in an hour — for just under $1,000.
Unfortunately, you can’t have new technology without critics!
A group of prominent scientists are calling for a temporary halt on the genetic editing of human DNA, published in the journal Nature. They’re calling for stronger policies at the national level that would protect the alteration of the DNA of human sperm, eggs, and embryos.
Then there’s Elon Musk, the founder and father of innovation at Tesla Motors and Space-X. Back in January, he announced he was donating $10 million dollars to “keep artificial intelligence from turning evil.” Considering the way AI and biotech have essentially merged into one force in recent years, that comes as a hit.
But make no mistake, we now have and are leveraging new technology to forge a new frontier in medicine and health. As with all things, there will be some bumps and bruises — hence the critical onslaught — but we’re getting there at rapid speed.
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