The military is beginning to take an active interest in synthetic biology as a technology. At the BioSysBio conference in London in April, Prof Dick Kitney said the UK's Ministry of Defence was sending out its scientists to interview people like him with an interest in synthetic biology.
However, as chief scientific adviser to the MoD, Prof Roy Anderson had something of a leg-up in the area as he was formerly head of the biology department at Imperial College, London — where Prof Kitney is based — and has now returned to the college as rector.
More recently, in the US, the Department of Defense is taking more formal steps. On 11 June, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics John Young wrote to the Defense Science Board to request it to set up a task force on the military applications of synthetic biology.
"The study should survey developments in biotechnology and attempt to project transition paths from research into current and future defense applications. In addition, the study should identify barriers to development and adoption of new applications to include policy issues, scientific and technological talent, and government business practices."
The aim of the study, according to Young, is to expand military applications from those focused on pathogens and therapeutics to more diverse areas such as materials and energy:
"Novel applications, which combine traditional and new research areas, suggest new interdisciplinary fields that will have important defense appplications."