The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency plans to issue grants worth up to $65 million in total over the next four years to seven university teams that will study and develop gene editing tools.
DARPA said Wednesday the teams will perform work under the Safe Genes program, which aims to explore how gene editing technologies work; develop ways to use the technology safely; and address potential health and security threats posed by misuse.
Awardees include teams from The Broad Institute of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University; Harvard Medical School; Massachusetts General Hospital; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; North Carolina State University; University of California, Berkeley; and University of California, Riverside.
DARPA noted that gene editing technologies can be used to protect warfighters against infectious disease; mitigate threats posed by biological weapons; and create new resources with unique properties such as novel chemicals, materials and coatings.
“Part of our challenge and commitment under Safe Genes is to make sense of the ethical implications of gene editing technologies, understanding people’s concerns and directing our research to proactively address them so that stakeholders are equipped with data to inform future choices,” said Renee Wegrzyn, DARPA program manager for Safe Genes.
Each team will focus on one or more of three technical objectives, including the development of genetic constructs to help control genome editors in living organisms; drug-based countermeasures to regulate genome editing in organisms; and a tool that can remove unwanted engineered genes from systems.
The university researchers will coordinate with potential stakeholders, including government regulators, to support scientific development and address questions and concerns on experiments.
The teams will also work to incorporate stakeholder feedback in the future when developers must decide whether to use the gene editing tools and how to apply them.