The JASONs, a group of elite scientists that advises the US government on national security, has weighed in on issues ranging from cyber security to renewing America’s nuclear arsenal. But at a meeting in June, the secretive group took stock of a new threat: gene drives….
That meeting forms part of a broader US national security effort this year to grapple with the possible risks and benefits of a technology that could drive species extinct and alter whole ecosystems. On 19 July, the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced US$65 million in funding to scientists studying gene-editing technologies….
Under the DARPA program, seven teams won four-year contracts. [With military funding, they plan] to develop tools to counter rogue gene drives that spread out of control. Such methods include chemicals that block gene-editing or ‘anti-gene drives’ that can reverse a genetic modification or immunize unaltered wild organisms so they are resistant to a gene drive.
Todd Kuiken, who studies policy relating to synthetic biology at North Carolina State University in Raleigh,…has qualms about the US military’s interest in the field; with Safe Genes, DARPA has become the world’s largest government funder of gene-drive research. Kuiken worries that this could sow suspicions about gene drives in parts of the world that view the US military in a less-than-favorable light….
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