Finding Engineering-Linked Indicators (FELIX)
The Finding Engineering-Linked Indicators (FELIX) program seeks to develop new experimental and computational tools to detect engineered biological systems. The development of new biotechnologies is enabling the ability to engineer a diversity of biological systems, with potential benefits ranging from new vaccines and therapeutics to novel materials and improved agriculture. Of particular note are genome editing tools that are commonly used worldwide for a range of significant research and development efforts. These technologies have made biological engineering more accessible, more convenient, and less expensive. At the same time, these beneficial biotechnologies could result in the accidental or deliberate misuse of biological systems with unforeseen or uncontrolled consequences that may have adverse health, economic, or national security implications. The FELIX program aims to develop new tools and approaches to improve and augment detection capabilities to expedite appropriate responses to the presence of engineered organisms.
Performers (Prime Contractors)
Broad Institute, Inc.; Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, Inc.; Ginkgo Bioworks, Inc.; Harvard College; Noblis, Inc.; Raytheon BBN Technologies Corporation
COVID-19 Related Research
- Biological detection
- Systems biology
- Synthetic biology
- Genome editing
- Evolutionary biology
To access FELIX program-related publications, please visit Google Scholar
- Rise of the Double FELIX: How Cyber Experts are Building a Detector for Engineered Bio Threats
- Government Wants to Detect Bio-engineered Threats
- IARPA seeks tech to ID bioengineered life forms
COVID-19 Related Research
Under the scope of the Finding Engineering-Linked Indicators program, IARPA is developing new computational and experimental tools to rapidly detect indicators of genome engineering in multiple types of biological systems, including viruses, improving and augmenting existing detection capabilities. Designed to work across a range of biological organisms and sample types, such as environmental collections with a mixture of organisms, the FELIX tools and methods can provide early alerts to the presence of engineered organisms and help expedite appropriate responses thereby avoiding adverse consequences.
IARPA’s FELIX Program Investigates Rumors that COVID-19 Pandemic is the Result of Genetic Engineering
January 2020: The MIT-Broad Foundry, a performer team on the FELIX program, analyzed the publicly available SARS-CoV-2 genome using their FELIX bioinformatics pipeline in order to test the veracity of online stories claiming that SARS-CoV-2 was engineered in a laboratory. They compared the SARS-CoV-2 genome against 58 million sequences, including genomes from closely and distantly related viruses. After only 10 minutes of analysis, the FELIX tool determined that all regions of the SARS-CoV-2 genome match naturally-occurring coronaviruses better than they match any other organisms, including any other viruses. This analysis indicates that no sequences from foreign species have been engineered into SARS-CoV-2.
Figure 1: Comparison of the SARS-CoV-2 genome to a comprehensive sequence database shows that the closest genetic matches are to other coronaviruses. Image used with permission of Broad.