U.S. project uses virus-carrying insects to genetically engineer crops, raising biological weapon concerns
Published: December 6, 2018
Category: GMO News, The Organic & Non-GMO Report Newsletter
The U.S. Defense Department says it is developing a new $27 million program—“Insect Allies”—to protect the food supply against pests, disease, or drought. But international scientists and lawyers worry that the technology could be used as a military application. Bugs carrying genetically modified viruses will spread them to crops such as tomatoes and corn, altering chromosomes to make them disease or drought resistant.
In an article in Science, Guy Reeves of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology says it’s a stretch to see the program as a way to protect agriculture. “We have viruses which can genetically modify a plant. But no one’s ever proposed dispersing them into the environment.”
Funded by the U.S Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), scientists from University of California, Davis, Ohio State, and Penn State are pursuing the research. EU scientists say the genetic agents could be spread by spraying; using insects would be hard to control. “Easy simplifications…of the described work program could be used to generate a new class of biological weapons,” the authors write. They expressed concern that Insect Allies may have already caught the attention of countries wanting to produce such weapons.
DARPA program manager Dr. Black Bextine agrees with concerns but said safeguards—such as “kill switches” and biosecure greenhouses—are in place to maintain biosecurity. Bextine added that spraying treatments were “impractical” and selective breeding takes years.
Source: The Guardian
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