Biological Technologies Office -- Friend or Foe

Funding Agency:
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is soliciting innovative proposals to enable the development of technology for rapid phenotype-based identification of bacterial pathogens in complex environments. Proposed research should represent revolutionary advances in the science, devices, and systems needed for the isolation and characterization of potentially unknown and unculturable bacteria. Specifically excluded is research that primarily results in incremental improvements to the existing state of practice. 

The Friend or Foe program will develop the capability to rapidly identify potential bacterial pathogens in complex environments through analysis of their behavior (i.e., their phenotype). New pathogens, both naturally occurring and adversary-engineered, are increasingly likely to emerge due to changes in the environment, rising global population, and the wide availability of genetic engineering tools to both state and non-state actors. These factors, coupled with faster potential dispersal due to increasing global travel and population density, have significantly increased the danger posed by bacterial pathogens. Current detection strategies based on biochemical markers would not work on previously undiscovered bacteria or on bacteria designed to evade detection. Moreover, genetic sequencing and omics analyses are insufficient to address this growing challenge, since the phenotype of a pathogen might not be determinable from the genetic make-up (i.e., the genotype) alone. The novel capability developed under Friend or Foe will provide detailed, highthroughput phenotype-based characterization of unknown bacteria through identification of pathogenic traits. Specifically, the technology should reliably extract representative samples of bacteria from complex environments, maintain their viability while they are repeatedly interrogated to identify virulence factors, and then analyze them using an omics approach that leverages external pathogen and gene databases. Ultimately, this technology will detect bacterial pathogens as, or even before, they emerge as a threat to the public. 

The Friend or Foe program is structured into three Technical Areas (TAs)—Viable Bacterial Isolation (TA1), Interrogation (TA2), and Bioinformatics and Decision Management (TA3)—with an additional and separate Independent Verification and Validation (IV&V) component.


o Proposal Abstract Due Date – March 14, 2018

o Proposal Due Date/BAA Closing Date – April 25, 2018

Agency Website

Areas of Interest

The Insect Allies program consists of three Technical Areas (TAs) to be addressed concurrently. Proposers must address all three TAs and must meet key milestones throughout the period of performance.

• TA1: Engineered plant virus (“Virus”)

• TA2: Viral delivery by insect vector (“Insect”)

• TA3: Rapid mature plant transformation (“Plant”) 

Funding Type





Engineering and Physical Sciences
Environmental & Life Sciences
Medical - Basic Science
Medical - Clinical Science
Medical - Translational

External Deadline

April 25, 2018