Secure Biosystems Design

Build on advances in genome science and synthetic biology to design and engineer DOE-relevant biological systems with built-in biocontainment measures and develop strategies to address risks of unintended consequences, while enabling a sustainable bioeconomy.

Persistence Control of Engineered Functions in Complex Soil Microbiomes. Led by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), the Persistence Control project uses the mechanisms of genome reduction and metabolic addiction to drive secure rhizosphere community design for robust biomass crops. This is one of several new national laboratory projects in secure biosystems design supported by GSP. [Courtesy PNNL]

The ability to redesign biological systems and engineer completely new organisms offers great opportunities in biotechnology. However, engineered organisms also pose significant potential risks, so safeguards must ensure that their deployment does not cause unintended, negative environmental and social impacts. In this context, the program intends to build risk awareness through analysis and research efforts. Basic research endeavors will also underpin efforts to characterize, forecast, and assess accidental or natural biological threats related to engineered organisms, as well as predict, prevent, detect, respond to, and recover from biological escapes. These efforts include implementing standard risk mitigation and biocontainment approaches as inherent features of designed biological systems. Genomic Science Program (GSP) research will also integrate advanced computational modeling and genome engineering with the environmental microbiome and sustainability program elements.

Some aims of GSP secure biosystems design research include:

  • Develop approaches to understand and enhance stability, resilience, and controlled performance of DOE-relevant plant and microbial systems in their natural environments.
  • Research novel biocontainment strategies, such as gene drives, non-natural metabolite dependency, and genetic isolation, as well as prevention of evolution and horizontal gene transfer.
  • Develop computational and experimental strategies to detect, predict, and ameliorate the effects of engineered organisms in different environments.
  • Explore the potential for engineering plants, microbes, and microbiomes to detect or control other engineered organisms released into the environment.