Genetically engineered microorganisms to detect enemy subs

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In Washington, D.C., the Naval Research Laboratory is hoping genetically engineered microorganisms like Marinobacter, can become living tripwires in the ocean to detect enemy submarines or other underwater vessels. Their research is looking at how changing its genetic makeup to react to certain metals, fuel exhaust or other substance not usually found in the ocean can help it trigger electron loss which is then signaled back to the military to warn them of enemy vessels.

“In an engineered context, we might take the ability of the microbes to give up electrons, then use [those electrons] to talk to something like an autonomous vehicle. Then you can start imagining that you can create an electrical signal when the bacteria encounters some molecule in their environment,” NRL researcher Sarah Glaven told.

The research is part of a $45 million effort including the Army, Navy and Air Force called the Applied Research for the Advancement of Science and Technology Priorities Program on Synthetic Biology for Military Environments.