Interagency Synthetic Biology Working Group (SBWG)


The membership of the Interagency Synthetic Biology Working Group (SBWG) includes representatives from 13 departments/agencies/offices.

Department of Commerce (DOC)

Advanced measurement solutions, technologies, data, standards, and associated infrastructures to enable predictive engineering and subsequent manufacturing and translation of emerging technologies in support of the bioeconomy. Learn more.

Department of Defense (DOD)

AFRL is leveraging advances in synthetic biology to optimize Airmen performance and health, and to develop next-generation materials to provide an asymmetric advantage to our warfighters and weapon systems. As a part of the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), AFOSR fosters and funds basic research in synthetic biology and related biotechnology topics within AFRL, universities, and industry laboratories to ensure the transition of research results to support USAF needs. Learn more.

The Army recognizes that emerging synthetic biology technologies can impact operations across the full spectrum: Soldier, Equipment, Logistics, and Infrastructure.  Broad application areas for which synthetic biology may provide beyond-classical capabilities include: Advanced Materials for Soldier, Platforms and Systems, Soldier Performance Optimization, and Soldier Health and Medicine. Learn more.

DARPA’s Biological Technologies Office (BTO) develops capabilities that embrace the unique properties of biology and applies those features to revolutionize how the United States defends the homeland. BTO is helping the Department of Defense expand technology-driven capabilities to detect novel threats and protect U.S. force readiness, deploy physiological interventions to maintain operational advantage, support warfighter performance, and focus on operational biotechnology for mission success. Learn more.

The Naval Research Laboratory is working to extend the natural capabilities of living organisms (such as microbes) by using synthetic biology to create systems that will provide new naval capabilities and to discover biologically-inspired adaptations and bioengineered solutions to expand current warfighter capabilities in detection mitigation and undersea navigational challenges. Targeted applications include underwater adhesion, photonics, electronics, energy harvesting and storage, sensing, and thermal management.

The DoD named biotechnology as one of eleven technology priority modernization areas. Biotechnology modernization encompasses synthetic biology (or engineering biology) and the development and transition of engineering biology-enabled products or capabilities to the military. DoD basic and applied research in synthetic biology is focused on designing or adapting biological systems to carry out user-defined functions, such as production (e.g. manufacturing chemicals and materials), energy generation, and sensing. To support synthetic biology efforts in the DoD S&T community, the Biotechnology Community of Interest was established, creating a centralized hub for the biotechnology community to coordinate and collaborate on efforts across the Department.

Department of Energy (DOE)

  • Agile BioFoundry (ABF) - The Agile Biofoundry (ABF) is a consortium of seven national laboratories working toward the goal to reduce the time to scale bioprocesses. On average, it takes 10 years to fully scale up a bioprocess. The ABF’s goal is to cut that time in half.  To achieve this goal, the ABF integrates sophisticated synthetic biology tools including software for biological design, machine learning, high-throughput analytics, techno-economic and life cycle analyses, and expertise, into an agile and dynamic platform for biomanufacturing of microbes for production of bio-based fuels and chemicals. The ABF focuses efforts on integrating the Design-Build-Test-Learn (DBTL) cycle of biological design while incorporating analysis that guides product/organism fit and selection, techno-economic and life cycle analyses, and process considerations for predictable scaling and process robustness. The ABF is a $20M per year investment by the Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO). The ABF provides opportunities for industry and academic partners to leverage ABF capabilities through Collaborative Research and Development Agreements and Strategic Partnership Projects.
  • Bio-Optimized Technologies to keep Thermoplastics out of Landfills and the Environment (BOTTLE™) - The Bio-Optimized Technologies to keep Thermoplastics out of Landfills and the Environment (BOTTLE™) consortium conducts multi-disciplinary R&D to change the way we recycle. BOTTLE efforts include the development of improved catalytic and biocatalytic recycling strategies to break down today's plastics into chemical building blocks for manufacturing higher-value products (upcycling) and the design of tomorrow's plastics to be recyclable-by-design. BOTTLE is supported by the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE's) Bioenergy Technologies Office and Advanced Manufacturing Office at $10M per year. Synthetic biology capabilities are leveraged to design bio-based chemistries for new plastics that are biodegradable or recyclable-by-design. Synthetic biology and molecular biology teams also work toward biological deconstruction of existing plastics and valorization of those deconstructed monomers into new materials. BOTTLE biologists have pioneered enzyme engineering efforts to deconstruct polyethylene terephthalate (PET).

  • Bioenergy Research Centers (BRCs) - The BRCs within the DOE-BER’s Genomic Science portfolio seek to provide a fundamental understanding of the biology of plants and microbes as a basis for developing innovative processes for bioenergy and bioproducts production from inedible cellulosic biomass. These centers leverage multidisciplinary approaches, including synthetic biology, to achieve these goals.
  • Biosystems Design - Funding program that seeks multidisciplinary fundamental research and technology development in genomics and systems biology to design novel biosystems.
  • Plant Science for Bioenergy - Ongoing developments in ‘omics technologies have enabled unprecedented views of plants across scales, from the molecular to ecosystem level. The Plant Science for Bioenergy Program integrates synthetic biology, omics data, computational modeling, and data analysis to enhance the understanding of critical plant processes such as metabolism, development, and inter/intraspecies signaling and communications.
  • Sustainability Research in Bioenergy - This program seeks to understand plant-soil-microbe interactions in field settings. Research in this program aims to gain a fundamental understanding of the molecular and physiological plant processes underlying plant resilience and adaptation to environmental change, as well as the plant-microbe interactions that influence these traits.  This understanding will enable better optimization of bioenergy crops to marginal landscapes and better predictions of bioenergy crop production across agricultural regions.
  • Systems Biology for Bioenergy - This program seeks fundamental, systems-level understanding of microbes relevant to advanced biofuels and bioproducts production.  Research in this program applies “omics”-driven tools of modern systems biology (including synthetic biology) to understand microbial production of bioproducts and advanced biofuels (i.e., biologically synthesized compounds with the potential to serve as energy-dense transportation fuels such as gasoline, diesel, and aviation fuel).

Department of Interior (DOI)

The USGS provides science to help achieve sustainable management and conservation of the Nation’s biological resources.  USGS  science helps mitigate biological threats by developing and delivering tools for early detection and effective response to invasive species and wildlife diseases through the development of emergent technologies for detection, diagnosis, surveillance, risk assessment, and management and control of these biological threats across the nation. 

Health & Human Services (HHS)

NIH’s mission is to seek fundamental knowledge about the nature and behavior of living systems and the application of that knowledge to enhance health, lengthen life, and reduce illness and disability.

NIH has a number of Institutes and Centers that may support synthetic biology approaches. As an example, the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering’s Division of Discovery Science & Technology (Bioengineering) supports the development and demonstration of modular platform technologies and engineering approaches to manipulate and interface with biology to enable a new paradigm of biomedical intervention for human health, without preference for any disease or application.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) promotes the development of new knowledge in the field of occupational health, and to transfer that knowledge into the practice of protecting the health and safety of workers. NIOSH has been conducting research on innovative and advanced technologies for close to 20 years, beginning with engineered nanomaterials and expanding into 3D printing, synthetic biology, and robotics. NIOSH seeks collaborative partners in industry, government, and academia to improve the understanding of the implications of these advanced technologies, as well as ensure responsible development of these technologies, which include possible solutions to address and improve worker health and safety. Learn more.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

NASA is using synthetic biology – the design and construction of biological devices and systems for useful purposes – to develop transformative biological tools and technologies to increase the capability and reduce the risk of space exploration, and as a tool to advance hypothesis driven investigation. 

Bioengineering Branch - The Bioengineering Branch is developing next generation technologies to enable humans to live beyond low Earth orbit for extended periods of time. Research and technology development areas include improved production of cellulosic and algal biofuels feedstocks, engineered nanoscale self-assembling enzyme complexes, and systems engineering tools for technology gap identification, trade studies, and down selection.

National Science Foundation (NSF)

Basic and applied research in synthetic biology and engineering biology funded across programs in Biological Sciences (BIO), Engineering (ENG), Mathematical and Physical Sciences (MPS), and Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE).  Programs in NSF Directorates of Education and Human Resource Development (EHR), and Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences (SBE) as well as the Offices of Integrative Activities and International Science and Engineering accept research proposals on all topics including synthetic and engineering biology research and education.  Support can also be obtained for small to mid-scale research and infrastructure projects as well as center scale activities. Interdisciplinary programs are also supported through Understanding the Rules of Life and Biotechnology/Industries of the Future activities. Links to some program pages are provided, however, individuals are always encouraged to contact a program director.

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)

NIFA provides competitive and capacity funding and program leadership for extramural research, higher education, and extension activities in food and agricultural biotechnology. Learn more.