ARLINGTON, Va.The Office of Naval Research (ONR) today launched a collaborative initiative with university researchers focused on synthetic, or engineered, cellspart of a larger effort to use the smallest units of life to help Sailors and Marines execute their missions.
ONR currently has multiple ongoing projects in the field of synthetic biology, which offers new tools and methods for creating new organisms with specific functions, such as threat monitoring.
Even the simplest cells can have complex functions, such as being able to move in a particular direction or glow in the dark. The idea is to make these capabilities useful to humans by directing their natural functions and adding non-natural functions to a cell's repertoire.
In one instance, ONR is examining synthetic cell circuitsgenetic programs designed by scientists either to make a cell perform a certain task or change the way a cell would normally do the task. For example, plants have been engineered to turn white when they detect trinitrotoluene (TNT) as a visual cue to their handlers.
"We're developing better ways to program cells to detect things we're interested inlike explosivesand then communicate that they've found that chemical to a device like a robot," said Dr. Linda Chrisey, ONR program officer for naval biosciences and bio-centric technology. "For example, you could grow these special cells on a silicon chip that's part of a robot. When the cells detect something and respond, they would communicate this information to the 'mother ship'the autonomous robot system."
One of ONR's biggest successes to date was a TNT-detecting plant. This "plant sentinel" transitioned to the Defense Threat Reduction Agency and Department of Homeland Security in 2010. A small company was founded to modify this plant for other applications, such as chemical warfare detection and crop security.
"The grand plan is to try and take advantage of the natural capabi
|Contact: Peter Vietti|
Office of Naval Research