Chapter V. Basic Research
Army Science and Technology Master Plan (ASTMP 1997)


11. Biological Sciences

a. Strategy

Basic research in the biosciences greatly increases our ability to understand and manipulate those aspects of the biological world that impact soldier sustainment and survival, and to identify biological materials and processes for future exploitation in materiel systems (see Figure V-20). In order to plan and execute high quality research relevant to Army needs in the biological sciences, an ARO Life Sciences Program Coordination and Planning Group including scientists from ARO, ARL, Army RDECs, MRMC, and the Corps of Engineers was established. Functioning as an advanced planning process team, this group developed a strategy for focusing research program activity in the biosciences to emphasize an appropriate balance between (1) capture of breakthrough scientific opportunities from the biological science research community and (2) alignment with Army and DoD science and technology objectives, and support of Army current demos and fielded items where applicable. While aimed at enabling novel capabilities, program efforts focus on providing the means to increase economic and environmental affordability in Army materiel production, on lessening the logistics burden, and on preventing the deleterious effects of chemical, biological, and physical agents from interfering with Army operations. Implementation of this strategy involves support of basic research in a number of sub-disciplines including, but not limited to, biochemistry, biophysics, molecular biology and genetics, cell biology, microbiology, physiology and pharmacology, encompassing studies at the molecular, cellular, and systems level.

Figure V-20. Basic research in the biological sciences is expected to have numerous military applications in the coming years.

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b. Major Research Areas

Basic Research in Biotechnology— Basic research in biotechnology is directed toward fundamental studies which have as their goals the generation of new knowledge relevant to application of cell-derived tools to biological production processes. These studies seek to expand our understanding of interactions within and between complex biological macromolecules, including clarification of structure-function relationships wherever possible. They provide information on gene expression and its regulation, on enzyme mechanisms and on the general nature of biological catalysis, on receptor site characteristics and receptor-mediated metabolic pathways, and on compartmentalized and membrane-interfaced sub-cellular chemical processing.

Optimization of Physical Principles in Biological Systems— Optimization of physical principles in biological systems has as its main objective the discovery and description of novel theoretical principles and mechanisms, or materials with extraordinary properties, from biological sources, i.e., lessons from nature. The aim here is to identify and characterize, as completely as possible, those biological processes and structures that might be used directly in, or provide conceptual models for, development of engineered systems with potential for military application. For the lessons from nature paradigm to be effective, with successful emulation of the best of what nature has to offer, biologically derived unique architectures and systems function need to be fully described with regard to both process and product.

Physiology and Performance— Physiology and performance provides for basic research on biological responses and adaptation to environmental signals, and strategies that organisms use to survive adverse environmental conditions. Included here also are attempts to meet the need for fundamental new knowledge on sensory and motor capabilities and limitations, especially as they relate to peak soldier-machine system performance. Research efforts seek to clarify the functional physiology underlying the observation and interpretation of input cues by sensory systems. There is a need here to describe the influence of visual, auditory, and multiple source information processing, especially as impacted by stresses of various kinds. Studies of this sort may uncover strategies for limiting performance degradation during military operations, some of which place unprecedented physiological demands upon the soldier. Research issues concerning possible improvements in soldier sustainment are addressed here as well, including those dealing with innovative preservation and stabilization technology for rations.

c. Other Research Areas

Biodegradation— Biodegradation represents an area of basic research in microbiology and biochemistry aimed at the identification and char acterization of cells and cell systems capable of breaking down materials relevant to Army activities, and the determination of conditions under which they are most active. It includes attempts at better understanding the molecular genetics; biochemical and physiological mechanisms underlying biodegradative processes in normal, extreme, and engineered environments; and the properties of materials that make them susceptible or resistant to biological attack. Research efforts here provide support for bioremediation of toxic wastes at military sites as well as information for protection of military materiel from biodeterioration.

Defense Against Chemical and Biological Agents— Defense against chemical and biological agents focuses on basic biosciences research impacting our ability to protect the solider from military threat agents. It encompasses fundamental studies on modes of action of potential agents on physiological targets, and characterization of those targets, including neurotransmitter interactions and other relevant cellular and systems involvement. A substantial portion of this work package relates to research addressing the properties of enzymes or enzyme-mimetics and the mechanisms of biocatalysis in threat agent detoxification. An additional area of primary concern in this work package is one geared toward providing a better understanding of how we might best detect the presence of one or more toxic agents on the battlefield. Approaches here include biologically based concepts for detection of either chemical or biological threat agents, as well as exploration of other means for rapid detection of biologicals.

d. Benefits of Research

A number of questions remain unanswered relative to the potential use of cellular genetic and biochemical manipulation in biotechnology for economically favorable and environmentally benign manufacturing processes, and for bioremediative strategies. Biosciences research, in providing answers to these and related questions, will enable metabolic engineering and bioprocessing to make significant contributions to Army and DoD missions and to the commercial sector for products and processes for off-the-shelf use by the military.

Research on bimolecular structural and functional materials, and their formation, guides us to the discovery of novel theoretical principles and of products and processes with extraordinary properties. These provide insight into the foundations of such phenomena as self-assembly, molecular recognition, catalysis, and energy transfer. Their study and understanding will lead to unique military, industrial, and consumer applications in such areas as sensors, smart materials, robotics, low observable technology, and biomimetic processing for com posites. Likewise, the biological world offers many examples of exquisitely integrated signal transduction and multimodal information processing. Fundamental knowledge pertaining to how biological systems accomplish this will continue to have substantial impact on design of engineered information systems.

Attempts to better understand the genetic and biochemical mechanisms in diverse strategies of adaptation that organisms use to survive harsh environments or adverse conditions will lead to the development of new coping strategies for the soldier for overcoming physiological stress caused by extreme heat and cold, lack of sleep, poor nutrition, and injury. Studies in several subdisciplines of food science provide a basis for formulating, processing, and extending useful storage life of rations. They provide fundamental insight to better understand nutrient conversion for cellular energy and neurotransmitter function, and to enable control of microbial growth and stabilization of structural integrity during food processing, contributing not only to improved soldier satisfaction and enhanced long-term acceptability of combat rations, but also to improved soldier performance and endurance.

In general, these and other studies show great promise in terms of building a foundation for a number of emerging technologies (see Figure V-21).

Figure V-21. Materials from the biosciences are expected to have numerous military applications in the coming years.