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DARPA Program Aims to Develop Biosurveillance Tech for Screening ‘Unfamiliar’ Bacterial Strains

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has unveiled a new program that aims to develop technology that would determine if unfamiliar bacteria contain harmful traits.

DARPA said Wednesday it seeks to build a portable tool that will work to screen unfamiliar bacteria to identify their pathogenicity, or capacity to cause disease, through the Friend or Foe program.

“Our existing biosurveillance strategies don’t work on previously undiscovered bacteria or on bacteria that have been specifically designed to evade detection by current tests,” said Paul Sheehan, a DARPA program manager.

“We need new screening tools that can quickly characterize the threat to enable a rapid response,” Sheehan added.

The Friend or Foe device will aim to detect whether unknown bacteria can survive and establish a niche in its host; cause harm to the host; and protect itself from antibodies or antibiotics.

DARPA envisions the program as a four-year effort that will involve “performer” teams and an independent verification and validation team.

The IV&V team will work with the performer teams to establish a standardized process for simulating different environments and mixtures of known bacteria.

The verification team will also assess the quality of performers’ technologies after tests

A proposers day is scheduled to take place at DARPA’s conference center in Arlington, Virginia, on Feb. 28.

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