Synthetic biology is a growing necessity to develop new countermeasures for chemical and biological threats, but a DoD report highlighted gaps in “human capital,” revealing its lack of service members with sufficient knowledge of the subject. To integrate young service members into the emerging field, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s Chemical and Biological Technologies Department collaborated with U.S. military academies through their Service Academy Initiative. Brian Pate, Ph.D., a DTRA CB scientist, launched the DTRA Syn Bio Academies Challenge. The annual event, a major focus of the initiative, aims to inspire future warfighters to advance their bioengineering prowess during a friendly competition. The challenge focuses on utilizing synthetic biology, the increased ability to control, create, modify, build or re-program biological systems for new defense strategies. DTRA’s effort also pairs cadets and midshipmen to compete in the International Genetically Engineering Machine Competition (iGEM), the premier synthetic biology student competition. A DoD report highlighted opportunities for synthetic biology investment, including applications in materials, sensing and medical countermeasures for defense against biological and chemical weapons. Through ongoing partnerships across interagency, DoD and federal laboratories, military service academies and the broader academic community, DTRA is leading the defense community in responsible development of new countermeasures enabled by this technology.
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