05 October 2018

Is the U.S. laying the groundwork for future biological warfare ?

Government-backed researchers in America are aiming to use virus-carrying insects to genetically engineer crops – raising fears the technology could be used for biological weapons.

A new article in the journal Science explores the shadowy program funded by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa). The program aims to disperse infectious, genetically modified viruses that have been engineered to alter the
chromosomes of crops – using insects to spread the viruses to the plants.

Researchers have budgeted more than $45m to pursue the genetic engineering scheme, in a program dubbed Insect Allies.

The agency describes the research as a way to improve crop security: bugs like aphids, leafhoppers and whiteflies will be used to spread a virus to plants including corn and tomatoes, which will then impart beneficial genes making the plants resistant to disease or drought.

But in the Science article, an international team of scientists and lawyers warn that the technology could be put to more nefarious purposes, including military applications.

“It is our opinion that the knowledge to be gained from this program appears very limited in its capacity to enhance US agriculture or respond to natural emergencies,” they write. “As a result, the program may be widely perceived as an effort to develop biological agents for hostile purposes and their means of delivery.”..

“We have viruses which can genetically modify a plant, or even a mouse,” Reeves said. “But no one’s ever proposed dispersing them into the environment. That’s the thing that makes Insect Allies unique.”..

At the same time, the spread of virus-carrying insects could be hard to control...

Darpa says there is nothing to fear from the program.
You be the judge.  More information at the Guardian link above, and at Vice's Motherboard.   Embedded image via DARPA.

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