The Safe Genes program supports force protection and military health and readiness by protecting Service members from accidental or intentional misuse of genome editing technologies. Additional work will leverage advances in gene editing technology to expedite development of advanced prophylactic and therapeutic treatments against gene editors. Advances within the program will ensure the United States remains at the vanguard of the broadly accessible and rapidly progressing field of genome editing.
Safe Genes performer teams work across three primary technical focus areas to develop tools and methodologies to control, counter, and even reverse the effects of genome editing—including gene drives—in biological systems across scales. First, researchers are developing the genetic circuitry and genome editing machinery for robust, spatial, temporal, and reversible control of genome editing activity in living systems. Second, researchers are developing small molecules and molecular strategies to provide prophylactic and treatment solutions that prevent or limit genome editing activity and protect the genome integrity of organisms and populations. Third, researchers are developing “genetic remediation” strategies that eliminate unwanted engineered genes from a broad range of complex population and environmental contexts to restore systems to functional and genetic baseline states.
Overall, the Safe Genes program is creating a layered, modular, and adaptable solution set to: protect warfighters and the homeland against intentional or accidental misuse of genome editing technologies; prevent and/or reverse unwanted genetic changes in a given biological system; and facilitate the development of safe, precise, and effective medical treatments that use gene editors.
Safety is a priority for the program. All work performed under the program will occur in controlled, biosecure facilities. Additionally, the Safe Genes program is informed by independent Ethical, Legal, and Social Implications (ELSI) experts to help DARPA proactively identify potential issues related to genome editing technologies. Performer teams will also engage with potential stakeholders, including government regulators, to increase the value of the science and to shape experiments around their questions and concerns. These communications supplement the standard oversight provided by institutional review boards that govern animal use and biosafety containment.