Skip to main content

U.S. military wants to use bioengineered sea bacteria to spot enemy subs, drones

From self-guiding bullets to brain-computer interfaces and robot insect spies, there are plenty of military technologies that sound like something straight out of a science fiction movie. Now the U.S. military is apparently looking to add one more technology to the mix: Water-based microorganisms that can be used to detect enemy submarines, underwater drones, or divers. Think of it like a living proximity sensor and you won’t be too far off course.

The work, which is supported by the United States Naval Research Laboratory, aims to use genetic modification to alter the makeup of sea bacteria so that it reacts to particular substances. These could include certain metals, human DNA, fuel exhausts, and more. These reactions could trigger the bacteria to give up electrons, a change that could be monitored and picked up by U.S.-owned aquatic drones. The project is still a research initiative, rather than something ready to be rolled out, but it could reportedly be only a year away from a proof of concept demonstration.

“We want to move synthetic biology from the laboratory to the field,” Dimitra Stratis-Cullum, who heads up the United States Army Research Laboratory’s biomaterials team, told Defense One. “That’s a big thrust of ours, and so there’s a lot of tool development in order to do that.”

Exactly what form this marine bacteria would take for the finished product isn’t yet clear. Stratis-Cullum suggests that it could be made to function as a sensor “embedded in a uniform” that’sable to trigger a color change if the presence of a certain material is detected. At present, the team is reportedly working on ways to “ruggedize” the organisms to make them more versatile.

The project is just one part of a broader $45 million initiative taking place across the Army, Navy, and Air Force divisions of the U.S. military. The “Applied Research for the Advancement of Science and Technology Priorities Program on Synthetic Biology for Military Environments” (coming up with a catchy name clearly wasn’t part of the investment) aims to create some next-generation genetic tools that the military can take advantage of in the near future.

Editors' Recommendations

Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
Trump reportedly still wants U.S. government to get paid in proposed TikTok sale
tiktok logo next to trump

President Donald Trump is reportedly still pushing for the U.S. government to receive a payment in Oracle's proposed deal to acquire TikTok.

Trump spoke to Oracle Chairman Larry Ellison and Walmart CEO Doug McMillon on Friday over the phone, while he decides whether to approve the transaction with TikTok's Chinese parent company ByteDance, Bloomberg reported, citing sources familiar with the matter.

Read more
Lockheed Martin wants to build a military 5G network, have the U.S. pay for it
high speed concepts that could mark the return of supersonic travel lockheed martin sr 72 hypersonic aircraft 7

Lockheed Martin's new CEO sees a 5G future for the company, aiming to spearhead the development of a next-generation network for the U.S. military that would be used to control the country's weapons. The idea isn't too far fetched: The Pentagon has already expressed interest in building a military 5G network, and has already experimented with the technology on select military bases.

Jim Taiclet is no stranger to wireless. Before being appointed Lockheed's new CEO, he spent two decades at American Tower, a company that owns nearly 180,000 communications sites worldwide. His comments came during Lockheed's quarterly earnings call with Wall Street analysts.

Read more
Trump administration wants to bring chip manufacturing to the U.S.
Huawei Kirin 980 processor

The U.S. government is hoping to persuade chip manufacturers Intel and TSMC (Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co.) to build factories in the U.S., according to a report by the Wall Street Journal.

The Trump administration is reportedly concerned about relying on overseas manufacturers, especially those in Asia, for a supply of all-important processors. Driven by the coronavirus pandemic, which has wreaked havoc on global supply chains in all industries including computing, the U.S. is seeking to secure a supply of essential components manufactured within its own borders.

Read more