Scientists Worried: Pentagon Wants To Make Virus-Spreading Insects

Monday, October 8, 2018
By Paul Martin

Mac Slavo
October 8th, 2018

Scientists are voicing their concerns over the Pentagon’s idea of making virus-spreading insects. Funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the project involves using gene-editing techniques like CRISPR to infect insects with modified viruses that could supposedly help make America’s crops more resilient.

For example, if a cornfield were to be hit by an unexpected drought or suddenly exposed to a pathogen, Insect Allies might be able to deploy an army of aphids carrying a genetically modified virus to slow the corn plant’s growth rate, wrote Live Science. According to the DARPA website, these “targeted therapies” could take effect in a single growing season, potentially protecting the American crop system from “food security threats” such as diseases, flooding, frost, and even “threats introduced by state or non-state actors.” However, scientists are rightfully concerned.

In a letter published on October 5 of this year in the journal Science, a team of five scientists wrote about their concerns. They worry that the project could be easily be exploited and used as a biological weapon, or at the bare minimum, could be perceived as a biological weapon by the international community. “In our opinion, the justifications are not clear enough. For example, why do they use insects? They could use spraying systems,” Silja Voeneky, a co-author of the letter and professor of international law at the University of Freiburg in Germany, told The Washington Post. “To use insects as a vector to spread diseases is a classical bioweapon.”

Blake Bextine, the program manager for Insect Allies, is somewhat less concerned. “Anytime you’re developing a new and revolutionary technology, there is that potential for [both offensive and defensive] capability,” Bextine told The Washington Post. “But that [making a biological weapon] is not what we are doing. We are delivering positive traits to plants… We want to make sure we ensure food security because food security is national security in our eyes.”

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