When technology and science come together, interesting and scary things are bound to happen sooner or later. A US military agency is looking at ways to invest in genetic extinction technologies. Rather than using said technology against humans, however, the goal is to wipe out species of animals notorious for carrying diseases. It is an interesting train of thought that will send some shockwaves throughout the industry.
Genetic Extinction Technologies are of great Interest
It is rather remarkable to see the US’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) become a major funder of research into genetic extinction technologies. Every time the US military gets involved in science or technology, it is often as a way to create new forms of weaponry. For now, the US$100 million in funding will be put to some good uses, by the look of things.
More specifically, the agency is investing this money into technologies which can wipe out dangerous animals and insects. The first order of business is getting rid of malarial mosquitoes, although invasive rodents and other undisclosed species are also on the list. It is evident there are some “problems” in nature which can be addressed with these technologies, although going against Mother Nature has never worked out in favor of mankind so far. For every victory we score in this regard, the planet will find a way to strike back.
According to new documents, DARPA is now the largest funder of gene drive research. This area of study may appear quite promising, but it is also scrutinized by the United Nations. That in itself is not surprising, as the Convention on Biological Diversity, a multilateral treaty signed in 1992, frowns on such research. It is certainly true not all animals or insects are “useful” to us as a species, but that doesn’t mean they should be eradicated either.
Moreover, there is growing concern over the direction gene drive research may be heading. Potential military applications for this research are also of concern, although none seem to exist right now. The US military is always looking for new tools, and genetic extinction technologies can always be weaponized in one way or another. DARPA doesn’t have the best of reputations in this regard either, which will only make matters worse.
Unintended consequences are always difficult to predict, especially when these technologies are tested in the real world. For example, the mosquito population may no longer spread malaria, but it may affect other species along the way. There is a lot we don’t know yet about how nature works, and messing with things one doesn’t understand is never a good idea.
Last but not least, the fact that DARPA is one of the sole funders of gene-editing research right now is problematic for many reasons. This field of research deserves a lot more attention than it gets right now, and the agency’s involvement will be scrutinized especially in light of this factor. Whether or not we will see other government agencies focus on this technology in the future remains to be seen.