Finding Engineering-Linked Indicators (FELIX)

New biotechnologies have enabled the development of a diversity of biological systems, with potential benefits ranging from new vaccines and therapeutics to novel materials and improved crops. Of particular note are genome editing tools that are commonly used worldwide to make biological engineering more accessible, more convenient, and less expensive. At the same time, these tools have the potential to be misused, accidentally or deliberately, to adversely affect health, the economy, and national security. The FELIX program aims to develop new capabilities that can detect engineered changes within biological systems to expedite appropriate mitigation responses to unlawful or accidental release of organisms.

The FELIX program aims to develop a suite of tools for the agnostic detection of engineered biological organisms, ranging from viruses, bacteria, insects, animals and plants that are either purposefully or accidentally developed and/or released with the potential to cause harm. Ideally, the tools will expand the quality and amount of information available to distinguish engineered organisms from natural organisms, i.e., natural variation from intentional engineering. These may include technologies such as novel methods and high throughput techniques in genomics, systems biology, bioinformatics and evolutionary biology. The tools should be able to improve the confidence in determining whether a system has been engineered. Examples include identifying signatures that were previously not accessible, using data from multiple interrogation points, increasing sensitivity, improving the quality of the data, and leveraging technologies that can increase throughput and reduce the complexity of sample analysis.

FELIX is anticipated to be a two-phase program, each of which will be composed of two separate focus areas:

Focus Area 1: The goal of this Focus Area is to develop platform tools and technologies that can be generalized across species to detect signatures that a biological system has been engineered. Approaches will be functional across a variety of samples, including model systems and non-domesticated species and will enable detection of engineering-linked indicators and/or improved data quality for various types of engineered changes. Considerations for detecting engineered changes include the type of change, location of the change(s) and frequency of engineered cells in a complex mixture. Enhanced capabilities to be developed in this Focus Area encompass both detection of previously undetectable signatures and significant improvements in the speed, throughput and sensitivity of signature detection.

Focus Area 2: The goal of this Focus Area is to develop new capabilities for modeling and analysis to enable detection of engineering-linked indicators. Tools developed in this Focus Area will enable facile analysis of large, complex data sets collected across multiple interrogation points and sample types and will demonstrate detection of signatures of engineering from synthetic data and/or model systems. These tools will also demonstrate improvements in analysis time and/or reduced computational resources, increased sensitivity and the ability to detect more sophisticated engineered changes.

Phase 2 will maintain the same Focus Area structure and will emphasize optimization of platform and analysis tools and technologies, ultimately resulting in development of transition-ready technical capabilities. This includes both detection of increasingly sophisticated changes and an improved ability to detect a small number of engineered changes within a complex background. The end result of the program will be a suite of tools that enable improved detection of a variety of engineered changes across a range of engineered organisms and sample types.

Collaborative efforts and teaming among potential performers are highly encouraged. It is anticipated that teams will be multidisciplinary and might include expertise in synthetic biology, systems biology, molecular biology, biochemistry, virology, microbiology, immunology, structural biology, proteomics, transcriptomics, immunology, genomics, bioinformatics, evolutionary biology, computer science and statistical analysis.

IARPA anticipates that academic institutions and companies from around the world will participate in this program. Researchers will be encouraged to publish their findings in academic journals following government review.

Contracting Office Address

Office of the Director of National Intelligence
Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity
Washington, DC 20511
United States

Primary Point of Contact

David Markowitz
Program Manager