DARPA Launches Program to Transform Plants into Silent Sentinels


DARPA launched a new program in November to replace electronic and mechanical intelligence sensors with plants.

The Pentagon’s innovation cell, the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, launched the Advanced Plant Technologies program to transform plants into “intelligence gatherers.” Using self-sustaining plant-based sensors, DARPA officials hope to bio engineer basic plants into ground sensors.

“Plants are highly attuned to their environments and naturally manifest physiological responses to basic stimuli such as light and temperature, but also in some cases to touch, chemicals, pests, and pathogens,” said Blake Bextine, the DARPA Program Manager for APT.

“Emerging molecular and modeling techniques may make it possible to reprogram these detection and reporting capabilities for a wide range of stimuli, which would not only open up new intelligence streams, but also reduce the personnel risks and costs associated with traditional sensors.”

DARPA will hold a Proposers Day for APT on Dec. 12 in Arlington, Va., for companies interested in taking part in the program. The registration deadline is Dec. 6.

Bextine and other DARPA leaders hope to use a plants’ natural mechanisms to detect the presence of “chemicals, pathogens, radiation, and even electromagnetic signals,” according to a DARPA release. The program is looking to modify the genomes of a plant to “trigger discrete response mechanisms.”

DARPA officials said the program anticipates it will only need to rely on existing technologies to remotely monitor plant reporting. If DARPA is successful, it would create an energy independent intelligence sensor.

“Advanced Plant Technologies is a synthetic biology program at heart, and as with DARPA’s other work in that space, our goal is to develop an efficient, iterative system for designing, building, and testing models so that we end up with a readily adaptable platform capability that can be applied to a wide range of scenarios,” said Bextine in DARPA release.

For more information about the program, the Broad Agency Announcement can be found here.

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