DARPA BTO has released the Insect Allies BAA, HR001117S0002. The Insect Allies program will “develop a platform technology for delivering enhanced crop traits within a single growing season by delivering a modified virus to target plants by a mobile insect vector.”
“Agricultural food production is a fundamental human activity that contributes to defense preparedness, societal stability, and economic vitality. While traditional plant breeding and genetic modification have been successful at increasing yield, all crop development pipelines currently in use are constrained by common plant life history bottlenecks, including growth and reproduction. As a result, existing crop enhancement technologies require decades of development. This timeline is not sufficient to respond to future agricultural challenges as they are occurring; therefore, a new rapid and highly-specific crop-development solution is needed.
Plant viruses hold significant promise as carriers of gene editing circuitry and are a natural partner for an insect-transmitted delivery platform. Viral mechanisms have already been used to investigate and modify plant phenotypes—for example, virus-induced gene silencing (VIGS) technique for impeding plant gene expression—and most (> 70%) of the > 1000 known viruses affecting plants in their mature states are naturally transmitted by insects. By leveraging the natural ability of insect vectors to deliver viruses with high host plant specificity, and combining this capability with advances in gene editing, rapid enhancement of mature plants in the field can be achieved over large areas and without the need for industrial infrastructure.”
There with be three Technical Areas (TAs). Proposers must address all three TAs :
- TA1: Engineered plant virus (“Virus”)
- TA2: Viral delivery by insect vector (“Insect”)
- TA3: Rapid mature plant transformation (“Plant”)
Insect Allies Program Structure and Objectives.