The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, announced on January 8 a multi-year research effort to develop new biosecurity tools under the Functional Genomic and Computational Assessment of Threats—“Fun GCAT”—program that will prevent the accidental or intentional creation of biological threats such as bacteria, viruses, and toxins.
“Despite the incredible promise of modern biotechnology, the potential for deliberate or accidental misuse exists,” said John Julias, program manager at IARPA. “By developing new methods for DNA screening and functional characterization of potential threats, we can begin to address these concerns.”
The Fun GCAT program intends to develop next-generation biological data tools to improve DNA sequence screening, augment biodefense capabilities through the characterization of threats, and advance our understanding of the relative risks posed by unknown sequences.
“Most DNA synthesis activities are not currently screened for health or environmental risks, and the screening tools that are used are limited to matching DNA sequences to known organisms,” noted Julias. “We hope that the technology developed through Fun GCAT will improve our ability to both screen and identify DNA sequences of concern.”
Through a competitive Broad Agency Announcement process, IARPA has awarded research contracts in support of Fun GCAT to teams led by Battelle Memorial Institute, Harvard University, Signature Science, SRI International, and Virginia Tech.