• Insect AlliesInsect Allies: Friend or foe?

    In 2016 DARPA launched the Insect Allies project, budgeting $45 million over four years to transform agricultural pests into vectors that can transfer protective genes into plants within one growing season. Scientists are concerned that such technology might be used for nefarious purposes. In a recent Science article, the scientists note the profound implications of releasing a horizontal environmental genetic alteration agent – implications that touch on regulatory, economic, biological, security, and societal issues.

  • Molecular alliesDiscovering new molecules for military applications

    The efficient discovery and production of new molecules is essential for a range of military capabilities—from developing safe chemical warfare agent simulants and medicines to counter emerging threats, to coatings, dyes, and specialty fuels for advanced performance. Current approaches to develop molecules for specific applications, however, are intuition-driven, mired in slow iterative design and test cycles, and ultimately limited by the specific molecular expertise of the chemist who has to test each candidate molecule by hand. DARPA’s Accelerated Molecular Discovery (AMD) program aims “to speed the time to design, validate, and optimize new molecules with defined properties from several years to a few months, or even several weeks,” DARPA says.

  • AliensExpanding the search for life in the universe

    To advance the search for life in the universe, NASA should support research on a broader range of biosignatures and environments, and incorporate the field of astrobiology into all stages of future exploratory missions, says a new report from the National Academies of Sciences.

  • SuperbugsRamping up fight against antimicrobial resistance

    The U.S. government is challenging world leaders, corporations, and non-governmental groups to step up their efforts against antimicrobial resistance (AMR). The AMR Challenge asks for at least one commitment in one of five areas: improving antibiotic use in humans and animals; reducing antibiotics and resistant bacteria in the environment; developing new antibiotics, vaccines, and diagnostics; enhancing data collection and sharing; and improving infection prevention and control.

  • Planetary securityIf there are intelligent aliens, why have we not we seen them?

    Thousands of planets have been discovered in the last few decades, although astronomers tell us there are probably billions. In such a large and diverse set of solar systems, it seems impossible that humans could be the only intelligent life. This contradiction – between the high probability that life exists elsewhere in the universe and the lack of evidence for it – is known as Fermi’s Paradox. Coined by physicist Enrico Fermi in the 1960s, it’s a mystery that continues to invite consideration more than half a century later.

  • InnovationChina cracks Top 20 in Global Innovation Index

    China broke into the world’s Top 20 most-innovative economies as Switzerland retained its No. 1 spot in the Global Innovation Index (GII) ranking published annually by Cornell University, INSEAD, and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). Rounding out the GII 2018 Top 10, from highest ranking to lowest: the Netherlands, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Singapore, United States, Finland, Denmark, Germany, and Ireland.

  • Public healthBipartisan bill offers new “pull” incentives for priority antibiotics

    Last week lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives introduced a bipartisan bill to encourage the development of new antibiotics, a move one expert called the most important antibiotic legislation in a generation. Currently, only a few large drug companies are involved in antibiotic research and development, because the cost of developing the drugs is so high and profit margins are so slim. Most new developments are modifications of existing drugs, and it’s been three decades since the last new class of antibiotics was discovered.

  • BiosecurityBolstering the body’s defenses against public health, national security threats

    Military service members, first responders, and civilian populations face severe threats from pathogens with pandemic potential, toxic chemicals, and radioactive materials, which can all quickly and powerfully overwhelm the body’s innate defenses. And though significant public and private investment has been focused on the development of traditional medical countermeasures such as drugs, vaccines, and biologics to guard against the worst effects of these health threats, current countermeasures are often limited in their effectiveness and availability during emergencies. PREPARE aims to develop new class of generalizable medical countermeasures that safely and temporarily tune activity of protective genes.

  • R&DU.S. Noble Prize leadership in the sciences threatened

    Since first being awarded in 1901, most Nobel Prizes for science have gone to the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, and France. Calculating Noble Prize productivity (that is, number of prizes per capita), the United States became the Noble Prize leader after the Second World War – and reached its zenith in the 1970s. On present trajectory, Germany will produce more Noble Prize winners per capita by 2025, and France by 2028.

  • Electronic resurgenceFirst annual Electronics Resurgence Initiative summit announced

    The microelectronics community is facing an array of long foreseen obstacles to Moore’s Law, the transistor scaling that has allowed for fifty years of rapid progress in electronics. Current economic, geopolitical, and physics-based complications make the future of the electronics industry uniquely interesting at this moment. The U.S. electronics community will convene in late July to inaugurate a five-year, $1.5B effort to create transformative advances in electronics.

  • SuperbugsA new class of antibiotics to fight drug resistance

    According to the World Health Organization, antibiotic resistant is one of the biggest threats to global health today and a significant contributor to longer hospital stays, higher medical costs and increased mortality. An international research team has reported the discovery of a new class of antibiotics.

  • Designer pathogensAssessing the risks, benefits of horsepox synthesis

    Truly assessing the risks and benefits of the recent horsepox synthesis is not an easy task. Two of the latest articles analyzing the implications of this research have been released in mSphere. They point to the increased attention on DURC [dual use research of concern] and the debate surrounding the benefits of a new vaccine versus the potential for a nefarious actor to misuse the process.

  • Designer pathogensNew framework for guiding controversial research still has worrisome gaps

    In December the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) release lifted the funding moratorium on Gain of Function (GoF) research, following the controversial projects involving H5N1 in 2011. The “Framework for guiding funding decisions about proposed research involving enhanced potential pandemic pathogens” is similar to the January 2017 “P3C0 Framework,” and it came with the bonus of restoring funding for such research – but there are still considerable concerns with how GoF research is evaluated and if these frameworks have really addressed the gaps.

  • AI threatsGlobal AI experts warn of malicious use of AI in the coming decade

    Twenty-six experts on the security implications of emerging technologies have jointly authored an important new report, sounding the alarm about the potential malicious use of artificial intelligence (AI) by rogue states, criminals, and terrorists. Forecasting rapid growth in cyber-crime and the misuse of drones during the next decade – as well as an unprecedented rise in the use of “bots” to manipulate everything from elections to the news agenda and social media. the report calls for governments and corporations worldwide to address the clear and present danger inherent in the myriad applications of AI.

  • EpidemicsWorking to halt outbreaks in 60 days or less

    The increasing threat of infectious diseases is intensifying the need for breakthrough technologies and capabilities to protect first responders and equip them with therapeutics that can halt the impact of infectious agents. Current approaches for recent public health emergencies due to infectious diseases have not produced effective preventive or therapeutic solutions in a relevant timescale. Examples from recent outbreaks such as H3N2 (flu), Ebola, and Zika viruses highlight the significant lag in deployment and efficacy of life-saving solutions. To address the growing threat from infectious diseases as well as to properly equip DoD Service members who regularly deploy worldwide to provide assistance in all manner of high-risk environments, DARPA launched the Pandemic Prevention Platform program (P3). DARPA notes that quickly produced nucleic-acid-based technologies may hold key to body creating protective antibodies.