Biotechnology may fortify U.S. Army

Peering down on future battlefields, U.S. military satellites may tell friends from foes by sensing residues of what friendly troops had for dinner. The spacecraft would detect on a soldier’s breath or skin biomolecules or even microorganisms deliberately mixed into the food to label U.S. troops.

Such identification from afar is just one of many fruits that the U.S. Army may reap by 2025 from biology-based technologies, according to a new study by a committee of the National Research Council (NRC) in Washington, D.C.

The June 20 report, entitled “Opportunities in Biotechnology for Future Army Applications,” envisions biotechnologies that not only identify but also serve, protect, and repair future soldiers.

In the report’s scenarios, fighters are genetically screened for aptitudes and vulnerabilities. From their carefully formulated rations, the soldiers ingest not just biomarkers but also vaccines and performance-enhancing drugs. Light, sturdy armor fashioned after seashells’ structures protects them, as do sensors for biological and chemical warfare agents. Tactical help emerges from rugged wearable computers (SN: 11/20/99, p. 330) with huge but physically compact memories and photosynthetic batteries–both made from proteins.

For those who stray into harm’s way, biomedical implants automatically assess wounds and dispense drugs. Advanced bandages promptly staunch bleeding, and engineered tissues repair damaged flesh. If the enemy unleashes a new biowarfare agent, scientists could quickly concoct a vaccine.

Although offensive biowarfare agents for U.S. use may seem like a natural topic for the report, they’re banned by an international treaty. So the Army, which called for the NRC report, didn’t ask the committee to explore that topic.

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