US military plan to spread viruses using insects could create ‘new class of biological weapon’, scientists warn
Insects could be turned into “a new class of biological weapon” using new US military plans, experts have warned.
The Insect Allies programme aims to use bugs to disperse genetically modified (GM) viruses to crops.
Such action will have profound consequences and could pose a major threat to global biosecurity, according to a team that includes specialist scientists and lawyers.
In theory, this rapid engineering would allow farmers to adapt to changing conditions, for example by inserting drought-resistance genes into corn instead of planting pre-engineered seeds.
But this seemingly inoffensive goal has been slammed by the scientists, who say the plan is simply dangerous and that insects loaded with synthetic viruses will be difficult to control.
They also say that despite being in operation since 2016 and distributing $27m in funds to scientists, Darpa has failed to properly justify the existence of such a programme.
Research programme with potential for dual use: scientists fear that the Insect Ally programme by the US could encourage other states to increase their own research activities in the field of biological warfare (MPG/D.Duneka)
“Given that Darpa is a military agency, we find it surprising that the obvious and concerning dual-use aspects of this research have received so little attention,” Felix Beck, a lawyer at the University of Freiburg, told The Independent.
Dr Guy Reeves, an expert in GM insects at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology, said that there has been hardly any debate about the technology and the programme remains largely unknown “even in expert circles”.
He added that despite the stated aims of the programme, it would be far more straightforward using the technology as a biological weapon than for the routine agricultural use suggested by Darpa.