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Is the US military in danger of using synthetic biology to ‘weaponize the environment’?

| | May 12, 2017
This article or excerpt is included in the GLP’s daily curated selection of ideologically diverse news, opinion and analysis of biotechnology innovation.

In recent years… the military—mostly under the umbrella of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency—has created a new suite of programs that take a very different approach to harnessing the power of nature: synthetic biology

Before 2008, the federal government invested basically negligible amounts in synthetic biology. But between 2008 and 2014, it poured approximately $819 million into synbio research.

DARPA clearly states that the existing initiatives focus on countering biological threats…

Because the U.S. is funding these initiatives through the Department of Defense, rather than a civilian organization, it’s not hard to see how some in the international community may perceive these as potential bioweapons programs, rather than investments in purely defensive technologies. After all, if the U.S. is able to engineer an insect to carry a virus for protective purposes, it wouldn’t be hard to engineer that same insect to carry a deadly virus for offensive ones.

At this critical tipping point where synthetic biologists are learning how to manipulate entire ecosystems, the organizations shaping the development of this technology will likely direct the future of environmental conservation. Availability and access to funding drives innovation. If the majority of funding is coming from defense agencies, then the research and subsequent applications will be defense-related. While DARPA programs have resulted in nondefense-related applications (think GPS in your car and the internet), these were second to the primary goal. What if we flipped the primary goal and enabled the National Science Foundation or the Department of Agriculture to invest the same amount of money in these technologies as DARPA?

The GLP aggregated and excerpted this blog/article to reflect the diversity of news, opinion, and analysis. Read full, original post: DARPA’s Synthetic Biology Initiatives Could Militarize the Environment

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