Research Programs from BAA - Life Sciences

8.0 Overview

The ARO Life Sciences Division supports research efforts to advance the Army and Nation's knowledge and understanding of the fundamental properties, principles, and processes governing DNA, RNA, proteins, organelles, prokaryotes, and eukaryotes, as well as multi-species communities, biofilms, individual humans, and groups of humans. The interests of the Life Sciences Division are primarily in the following areas: biochemistry, neuroscience, microbiology, molecular biology, genetics, genomics, proteomics, epigenetics, systems biology, bioinformatics, and social science. The results of fundamental research supported by this division are expected to enable the creation of new technologies for optimizing warfighters' physical and cognitive performance capabilities, for protecting warfighters, and for creating new Army capabilities in the areas of biomaterials, energy, logistics, and intelligence. The Division's research programs are currently focused on five research areas. The titles, scopes and points of contact for these programs, each of which address general aspects of basic research in life sciences, are listed below. A small number of symposia, conferences and workshops are also supported in part or in whole to provide an exchange of ideas in areas of Army interest.

8.1 Biochemistry

The Biochemistry Program seeks to understand and control the function, structure, and organization of biomolecules to enable the development of novel systems, materials and processes that enhance Soldier protection and performance. This Program emphasizes innovative high-risk research in biomolecular self-assembly, molecular recognition and specificity, structure-function relationships, enzymology, biomolecular engineering for novel or enhanced function, sensing and responsive capabilities of biomolecules and cells, mechanisms of biomolecular energy generation and mechanical motion, and molecular and macromolecular organization. Of particular interest are studies exploring the controlled organization of biomolecules at the nanoscale, the integration of biomolecules with synthetic materials or systems, and innovative approaches for supporting biological activity outside of the cellular environment and in non-aqueous conditions.

Technical Point of Contact: Dr. Stephanie McElhinny,, (919) 549-4240

8.2 Genetics

This Program supports basic research in genetics, molecular biology, genomics, epigenetics, and systems biology in areas that may enable the optimization of the Soldier's cognitive and physical performance capabilities, enhance Soldier protection, and improve Army logistics in areas such as biomaterials, energy, and intelligence. This Program emphasizes innovative high-risk fundamental research in areas such as identification and characterization of gene function, gene regulation, genetic interactions, gene pathways, gene expression patterns, epigenetics, mitochondrial regulation and biogenesis, and nuclear and mitochondrial DNA replication, mutagenesis, oxidative stress, and DNA repair. This Program is interested in identifying and understanding the molecular factors that affect human performance and human protection under both normal conditions, and when affected by a variety of stressors that are likely to be encountered in battlefield situations, such as dehydration, heat, cold, sleep deprivation, fatigue, caloric insufficiency, pathogens, and physical and psychological stress. Also of interest are mechanisms of prokaryotic adaptation and biological components of social instability.

Technical Point of Contact: Dr. Micheline Strand, e-mail:, (919)549-4343.

8.3 Microbiology

This Program supports research in microbial physiology, genetics, ecology, and evolution with Army relevance. Included are studies to elucidate antimicrobial resistance mechanisms, microbial community interactions, population dynamics, studies of organisms that are not culturable, studies of organisms at the single cell level, and studies of organisms that have adapted to extreme environments. Of special interest are studies on microbial adaptation to changes in their environment, and studies to enhance stabilization of materiel. Also included are fundamental studies that enable development and exploitation of microbial systems for unique biotechnological applications and bioengineering processes such as by developing innovative approaches to metabolic engineering or protein evolution. Basic mechanisms underlying biodegradation of anthropogenic compounds, mechanisms underlying the synthesis and assembly of biomaterials, and studies of microbiological mechanisms with potential for contributing to the remediation of sites contaminated with toxic wastes will also be considered. Additionally, of joint interest with the Biomathematics Program, are research efforts that advance our ability to work with complex biological data sets to increase understanding of biological systems, ranging from single-cell processes to multi-cellular interactions.

Technical Point of Contact: Dr. Robert Kokoska, e-mail:, (919) 549-4342.

8.4 Neurophysiology and Cognitive Neuroscience

Research in the neurophysiological bases of perception and cognition, covering areas such as neuronal cell physiology and biophysics, psychophysiology, sensory and perceptual physiology, computational neurobiology, neuropsychology, and integrative neurobiology is of interest. Specific examples can include physiological, neuro-psychological and/or cortical/cognitive mechanisms underlying successful completion of complex task behaviors applicable to non- laboratory environments under non-ideal conditions, including both amelioration of induced losses as well as enhancement in defined perceptual, cognitive and/or motor abilities in healthy humans. Investigations can span the gamut from single-neuron electrophysiology and multi-unit recordings through neuro-imaging technologies to define the functional neural connectivity to humoral and psychological correlates of both central and peripheral nervous system function. Non-medically oriented research in both human volunteers and animal models designed to elucidate the fundamental physiology underlying cognition and possible non-invasive methods of monitoring, and using cognitive states and processes during normal activity is appropriate. Perceptual and/or psychophysiological implications of mind-machine interfaces ranging from optimizing auditory, visual and/or somatosensory display, and control systems based on physiological or psychological states through modeling of individual cognitive dynamics is relevant to this research area.

Technical Point of Contact: Dr. Frederick Gregory e-mail, (919) 549-4318.

8.5 Social and Behavioral Science

The goal of this Program is to promote the scientific study of human behavior by supporting positivistic research to discover basic theoretical foundations of human behavior at all levels, from individual actors to whole societies, for all temporal and spatial scales. Two specific goals of this Program are to (i) develop generalizable approaches that reliably and accurately measure social and behavioral concepts, and (ii) discover and test causal theories that describe, explain and predict behavioral responses to physical, environmental, psychological or social stimuli. Research in this program can include a broad range of empirical and theoretical approaches including empirical studies that require primary data collection, such as random control trials, quasi experiments, laboratory and field experiments, surveys, comparative and observational studies, or the use of secondary data sources, such as archival data or news reports, as well as formal, mathematical or computational approaches. The program encourages the collection of primary data for the development and testing of theoretical models and for the development and advancement of methodologies for data collection, statistical methods, and research designs that have the potential to help advance scientific understanding of human behavior. This includes, but is not limited to, research on physiological and/or behavioral responses to social situations at multiple levels of analysis including: population level adaptation and response to natural and human induced perturbations including, but not limited to, climate change, mass migration, war, and attempts at democratization; the role of culture, cognition, institutions and other intermediary level factors in accounting for variations in human behavior; the impact of social context on individual human decision-making under risk and uncertainty; and the search for organizing principles to describe emergent and latent properties of dynamic social systems and networks. The development of a systematic and efficient approach to collect and analyze data to describe fundamental social processes and detect changes in institutional structures combined with theories of cause and outcomes in the behavioral realm will provide military decision makers with the capability to anticipate and mitigate behaviors that impact U.S. interests and national security.

Technical Point of Contact: Dr. Micheline Strand e-mail:, (919) 549-4343.


Last Update / Reviewed: January 14, 2013