AUSTIN, TEXAS – Sept. 27, 2022 –Advanced bioengineering technologies offer enormous potential for creating cost-effective solutions across industries, but there is little existing guidance to avoid causing inadvertent harm to humans, livestock, crops, or the environment, or “bioerror.” As the U.S. bioindustrial manufacturing sector grows, the need for collaborative, proactive, robust, and transparent security best practices has become evident.
To address this need, BioMADE, a Manufacturing Innovation Institute (MII) sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense for the advancement of U.S. bioindustrial manufacturing capabilities, has devoted a portion of its latest round of funding to the development of industry member training courses.
BioMADE has selected Signature Science and its team from Rice University and Aclid to develop a Biosecurity Sequence Screening Training Course for Bioengineers. The course will advance BioMADE’s Education and Workforce Development program, as well as its Safety, Security, Sustainability, and Social Responsibility (4S) initiative, which strives to ensure the safety of engineered products, increase awareness of security vulnerabilities, support sustainability of the industry, and promote societal responsibility, as scientists take ownership of their own bioengineering work.
BioMADE announced the award, part of a larger suite of nine projects targeted to address biomanufacturing capabilities, at the White House Summit on the National Biotechnology and Biomanufacturing Initiative on September 14, 2022. The summit followed the signing of the Executive Order on Advancing Biotechnology and Biomanufacturing Innovation for a Sustainable, Safe, and Secure American Bioeconomy.
The course will leverage SeqScreen, an open-source software toolkit which sensitively characterizes individual nucleotide sequences using taxonomic and functional labels and a customized set of curated Functions of Sequences of Concern (FunSoCs). The curated database of thousands of gene sequences contained in SeqScreen will allow students to recognize sequences of concern, and to begin to implement a consistent approach to functional prediction-based screening of a range of sequence types that they, as bioengineers, may generate. The course will be accessible to current members of the bioengineering workforce, as well as to those in the pre-employment stage.
“While much emphasis is placed on bioterror and the nefarious development of harmful synthetic molecules, this course seeks to educate well-intentioned members of the bioindustrial manufacturing workforce on the importance of screening for uintended and potentially dangerous sequences of concern, or what we call bioerror,” said Dr. Krista Ternus of Signature Science. “Following the completion of this course, students will be able to use open-source software to identify potential bioerrors in their work and take proper action in the event a biorisk is identified. This is a responsible step forward for the field, and we’re encouraged to see BioMADE’s dedication to education.”
Years of collaboration with Computer Scientist Todd Treangen of Rice University’s George R. Brown School of Engineering were vital to SeqScreen’s development.
“It is wonderful to partner with Signature Science and Aclid to develop this first of its kind Biosecurity Sequence Screening Training course. This is extremely timely and leverages our collective experience towards this important topic. I look forward to engaging with BioMADE leadership and membership community while developing these training materials.”
Contributing team member, Aclid, was founded to advance responsible research in synthetic biology. The company’s platform is an end-to-end biosecurity solution for gene synthesis, foundries, and governments.
“We’re excited to partner with Signature Science, Rice University, and BioMADE to make biosecurity and biosafety tools more accessible,” said Kevin Flyangolts of Aclid. “This is an important step to a safer and more secure bioeconomy.”
As a companion to SeqScreen, Signature Science and Rice University developed S2Fast. This workflow characterizes novel or synthetically designed biothreats, and is designed to predict the functional threat potential of short sequences from gene fragments, addressing the bioterror element of the bioterror and bioerror paradigm. SeqScreen and S2Fast were developed with funding from the Intelligence Advanced Projects Research Activity (IARPA) under their Fun GCAT program.
About Signature Science, LLC:
A subsidiary of the Southwest Research Institute, Signature Science, LLC is a scientific and technical consulting firm providing multi-disciplinary applied research, technology design and development, and scientific, technical, and operational services to government and industry.
The development of SeqScreen and S2Fast were supported by the Fun GCAT program from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), via the Army Research Office (ARO) under Federal Award No. W911NF-17-2-0089. The views and conclusions contained herein are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as necessarily representing the official policies or endorsements, either expressed or implied, of the ODNI, IARPA, ARO, or the US Government.