DARPA Dive: Seeking Self-Healing, Hybrid Biological Structures

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), established in 1958, is an agency within the Department of Defense (DOD) responsible for catalyzing the development of technologies that maintain and advance the capabilities and technical superiority of the U.S. military. In short, it’s the way the U.S. military tries to prevent technical surprise.

DARPA is seeking to develop a project called “Reefense.” Reefense refers to self-healing, hybrid biological and engineered reef-mimicking structures to mitigate the coastal flooding, erosion and storm damage that increasingly threaten civilian and DoD infrastructure and personnel. More simply, it is bio-based technology designed protect military installations from coastal storm damage and flooding.

  • Federal Agency Name – Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA),
    Biological Technologies Office (BTO)
  • Funding Opportunity Title – Reefense
  • Announcement Type – Initial Announcement
  • Funding Opportunity Number – HR001121S0012
  • North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) – 541714
  • Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance Numbers (CFDA) – 12.910 Research and Technology Development

Under the five-year program, Reefense is intended to customize wave-attenuating base structures that will promote calcareous reef organism (coral or oyster) settlement and growth. The system is meant to self-heal and keep pace with sea level rise over time. A system will be put in place that will also attract non-reef building organisms necessary to help maintain a healthy, growing system. Finally, adaptive biology (other than genetically modified organisms) will enable improved coral and oyster resilience against disease and temperature stress, to ensure compatibility with a changing environment.

“Reefense takes the novel approach of integrating structural engineering, reef health, and adaptive biology to create reef-like ecological systems,” Lori Adornato, Reefense program manager, said. “These structures will help significantly reduce infrastructure maintenance costs, promote ecosystem health, and strengthen DoD’s ability to maintain its infrastructure and military readiness.”

Ecosystem Engineering

Reefense will promote rapid recruitment of the non-reef building organisms needed to protect the reef, allowing the structure to grow over timescales at least as fast as the healthiest reefs found in nature. A wide array of multi-domain chemical, acoustic, structural, and optical promoters could be considered as technologies that aid in ecosystem establishment. Applicants should focus on increasing recruitment of the various organisms that naturally protect reefbuilders from predation and reduce competition for substrate, while enabling the buildup of beneficial organisms (e.g., coralline algae) that aid in recruitment. Examples include the fish and invertebrates that prey on organisms that consume corals or oysters, as well as herbivores that prevent the algae overgrowth that smothers and degrades both coral and oyster reefs. These organisms must occur natively in the region where the Reefense structures will be employed, as this program does not support introduction of non-native species.

The program will entertain modest efforts to breed native species whose populations have been in decline. Applicants should also focus on adaptive biology for coral and oysters, to ensure compatibility with a changing environment for greater long-term resilience.

DARPA Dive: Seeking Self-Healing, Hybrid Biological Structures was last modified: February 12th, 2021 by Staff