At the recent DARPA Wait What? conference, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter said lifesaving technologies are a priority for his department
You might expect the U.S. Secretary of Defense to say the biggest innovations he’s following involve weapons systems or robotics or artificial intelligence. But current Defense Secretary Ashton Carter is looking at biology, especially in regard to how biological science can inform the development of technology to save the lives of military personnel:
“I actually believe that in the era to come it will be the biosciences that will be most consequential for humankind. And like all technologies they’ll be used for good or for ill and our job is to make sure that the uses for good outweigh the uses for ill. But I think if you had to just pick a frontier, you’d have to call that one as the one we will look back on—future Secretaries of Defense, future generations—and say, ‘Were we part of that awakening and that revolution?’ And I hope the answer to that is yes.”
Carter spoke at a recent meeting, called the Wait What? conference, in Saint Louis that was sponsored by DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. DARPA hopes its life sciences research can improve the health and readiness of combat forces, advance battlefield medicine and help understand and treat traumatic brain injury.
Such work would have obvious civilian application as well. As would research into infectious disease. The Defense Department showed just how serious it is about bioscience last year when DARPA launched its Biological Technologies Office. At the Wait What? conference Air Force Colonel Dan Wattendorf, a Biological Technologies Office program manager and a clinical geneticist, talked about ways to head off the spread of infectious diseases: “What we are allowed to do now is identify special antibodies, because of the speed of discovery of these antibodies…add that new antibody to this cocktail. But we still need to make it. If we make it inside a human body we can abbreviate this production process and we would make it inside the human body not by providing the protein—the antibody—but by providing the genetic sequence for that antibody with a synthetic process. The body becomes the bioreactor.”
Out-of-control disease spread can create political instability. So keeping epidemics from happening could be one way a focus on the biosciences helps the military—by keeping it from being called on in the first place.
[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]