NREL scores nearly $10M from DOE to boost biosecurity for bioengineered organisms

December 21, 2020 |

In Colorado, two awards totaling nearly $10 million from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science Biological and Environmental Research (BER) program will support two research projects at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and partner laboratories that aim to analyze and reduce biosecurity risks of promising bioengineered organisms. 

Working under BER’s Secure Biosystems Design Program, NREL’s two projects will provide the fundamental research to meet that need, investigating the basic machinery of microbes to give engineers a roadmap for designing secure biosystems. 

Researchers in NREL’s first project are focusing on predicting and controlling the biosecurity risks of bioengineered organisms that may be used in advanced industrial applications. To do this, they will develop a robust platform to help engineers design, generate, and analyze biological containment strategies. Ultimately, the work will result in an extensive library of microbial strains, biocontainment modules, and testing platforms, serving as a guide for creating secure biosystems for an array of agriculture and bioenergy applications. 

In the second focus area, a joint project with Oak Ridge National Laboratory, researchers will study the biotic and abiotic processes that drive how microbes establish, spread, and impact ecosystems. Scientists think that improving our understanding of these factors will lead to innovative bioengineering approaches that can boost the productivity of the growing bioeconomy. The SEED team will develop cutting-edge tools and genomic resources that guide risk assessment and lend new countermeasures against unwanted microbial invasions—a step toward more resilient and secure forests and crops. 

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