DARPA is seeking proposals to develop innovative technologies and approaches to build synthetic plant-microbe communities that can either:
(1) cleanse soil contaminants from military installations and battlefields; or
(2) overtly report soil status when cleanup is finished.
Proposed research should combine innovative approaches to enable revolutionary advances in synthetic ecology, synthetic biology, and high throughput testing of terrestrial systems.
Technical Areas of Interest
- Engineer Root Communities – identify or engineer rhizosphere microorganisms (bacteria, fungi, other microbial eukaryotes, archaea, etc.) that persist in contaminated soil with the support of the plant host and subsequently refine these microorganisms into track-specific functional communities.
- Engineer Plants – engineer plants to support above microbial community growth, or enhance community metabolic activity to increase contaminant degradation rates, or detect detect signals from rhizosphere community indicating contamination and relay signals to surface.
- Engineer Ecological Containment – demonstrate robust biocontainment strategies for controlling the GMOs in the synthetic communities to enable future regulatory approval for soil-controlled greenhouse testing.
- Develop Testbeds – developed testbeds will be parallelizable microcosms that provide rapid screening feedback for synthetic community development.
- Cleaner Track – focus on either TNT or JP-8 jet fuel decontamination. must outline and justify the “marker” compound(s) that will reflect overall contaminant degradation.
- Beacon Track – outline and develop modular plant-microbe synthetic communities where rhizosphere communities identify the soil’s contamination state denoting whether JP-8 and/or TNT contaminated soil is at or below the EPA-approved screening levels. It will amplify and relay that signal to the plant, which will in turn produce an overt, above-ground phenotypic signal
- Combined Track – The Cleaner and Beacon Tracks fundamentally center on the detection of contaminants in soil with engineered plant-microbe systems. As such, proposers may submit proposals that address developing one Cleaner and one Beacon that collectively focus on a single contaminant (JP-8 or TNT)
– Abstracts due 8 November 2022; full proposals due 4 January 2023