Photo: spratmackeral / flickr
This morning, the day after the Department of defence’s number two man referred to bioterror as an inevitable threat against the United States civilian and military populations, DARPA tweeted a call for a method to disarm certain kinds of bioweapons.The solicitation — put out alongside requests for advanced magnetic imaging studies, laser research, satellite identification signature development, and first-responder training systems — seeks research into methods that can be used to combat antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Yesterday, Deputy Secretary of defence Ashton Carter said that the DoD was extremely concerned about the impact of a future bioweapon attack domestically or on the battlefield.
This request from DARPA shows that the military is seeking every available research option to deal with that eventuality. The proposal cites, in addition to general bacterial resistance, the threat of “purposely engineered antibiotic resistant microbes” as a key reason for the call.
The desired research would result in the creation of an artificial plasmid — a chunk of DNA that can be used to change the DNA found naturally in organisms — which would displace other plasmids that make bacteria resistant to treatment.
Essentially, DARPA wants something that can be used to render antibiotic-resistant germs treatable. One of the most threatening aspects of germ warfare involve bacteria that have been weaponised to the point that they are untreatable with existing antibiotics. DARPA wants a way to render those infections treatable.
DARPA admits that this strategy is “high risk,” likely due to the inherent struggles in controlling and understanding the effects of artificial DNA. Still, they justify the risk with the observation that the research is necessary in light of increased antibiotic resistance.
In the solicitation, DARPA specifically notes that they want plasmids designed to counter “a range of human pathogens of interest to the DoD,” but the civilian implications of that research are incredible too.
With the widespread use and abuse of antibiotics, infections are becoming increasingly resilient across the board, and any way to render the germs vulnerable again would have immense medical use for the general public.
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