While fans of Resident Evil or The Last of Us may be quite familiar with the concept of zombie plants, the idea of an agricultural bioweapon isn’t exactly common knowledge. Although we aren’t fighting giant plants infused with the t-Virus or some mutated strain of the Cordyceps fungus just yet; genetic modification and experimental botanic research is actually very real.
In fact, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is currently funding a number of research projects via their Insect Allies program with the intent of developing insect-vectored viruses that can be used to modify crop plants. Simply put, DARPA will fund and support any organization willing to genetically alter viruses to carry their dangerous new strains of DNA.
Thankfully this idea of genetically modified insects delivering DARPA-approved “payloads” rang alarm bells with Professor Silja Voeneky at the University of Freiburg in Germany, who voiced her concern publicly in a publication recently published by the journal Science.
In the context of the stated aims of the DARPA program, it is our opinion that the knowledge to be gained from this program appears very limited in its capacity to enhance U.S. agriculture or respond to national emergencies (in either the short or long term). Furthermore, there has been an absence of adequate discussion regarding the major practical and regulatory impediments toward realizing the projected agricultural benefits. As a result, the program may be widely perceived as an effort to develop biological agents for hostile purposes and their means of delivery, which—if true—would constitute a breach of the Biological Weapons Convention.
The Biological Weapons Convention was ratified by the United States in 1975 and bans the use of living organisms such as bacteria or viruses as weapons of war. However, it’s clear that Professor Silja Voeneky and her team believe this research, fully funded by the United States Department of Defense, may actually be running afoul of these international regulations.
The United States of America is a sovereign nation, and the stated purpose of such research is for the benefit of crops and stability of our food supply, which could save millions of lives!
But if a little oversight on any “peaceful” project funded by a military organization may help prevent the creation of Plant 42, Green Zombies, or unintentional Cordyceps zombies… we have to support the effort. After all, the United States government really doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to properly securing or storing deadly viruses and bacteria.
For more information please read “Agricultural research, or a new bioweapon system?” now currently available online via Science, or check out all of these articles for details on the millions of dollars in funding provided by DARPA to Penn State, Ohio State University, Boyce Thompson Institute, the University of Florida, the University of Minnesota, the University of California, Davis, and Iowa State University. After all, what you don’t know could eat you!