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  • DARPA Insect Allies Project



    Insect Allies

    Dr. Blake Bextine











    The Insect Allies program is pursuing scalable, readily deployable, and generalizable countermeasures against potential natural and engineered threats to the food supply with the goals of preserving the U.S. crop system. National security can be quickly jeopardized by naturally occurring threats to the crop system, including pathogens, drought, flooding, and frost, but especially by threats introduced by state or non-state actors. Insect Allies seeks to mitigate the impact of these incursions by applying targeted therapies to mature plants with effects that are expressed at relevant timescales—namely, within a single growing season. Such an unprecedented capability would provide an urgently needed alternative to pesticides, selective breeding, slash-and-burn clearing, and quarantine, which are often ineffective against rapidly emerging threats and are not suited to securing mature plants.
    To develop such countermeasures, Insect Allies performer teams are leveraging a natural and efficient two-step delivery system to transfer modified genes to plants: insect vectors and the plant viruses they transmit. The program’s three technical areas—viral manipulation, insect vector optimization, and selective gene therapy in mature plants—layer together to support the goal of rapidly modifying plant traits without the need for extensive infrastructure. Since the start of the program, Insect Allies teams with expertise in molecular and synthetic biology have demonstrated mounting technical breakthroughs that are providing foundational knowledge in plant virus gene editing and disease vector biology from which the program will continue to build.
    DARPA emphasizes biosafety and biosecurity in this research. All work is conducted inside closed laboratories, greenhouses, or other secured facilities; DARPA is not funding open release.

    https://www.darpa.mil/program/insect-allies
    Ok purpose is good : The Insect Allies program is pursuing scalable, readily deployable, and generalizable countermeasures against potential natural and engineered threats to the food supply with the goals of preserving the U.S. crop system.

    Method though :
    Insect Allies performer teams are leveraging a natural and efficient two-step delivery system to transfer modified genes to plants: insect vectors and the plant viruses they transmit. The program’s three technical areas—viral manipulation, insect vector optimization, and selective gene therapy in mature plants—layer together to support the goal of rapidly modifying plant traits without the need for extensive infrastructure
    Or in short it is using insects as syringues to perform genetic modifications of plants in the fields

    http://science.sciencemag.org/conten...410/35.summary
    Summary

    Agricultural genetic technologies typically achieve their agronomic aims by introducing laboratory-generated modifications into target species' chromosomes. However, the speed and flexibility of this approach are limited, because modified chromosomes must be vertically inherited from one generation to the next. In an effort to remove this limitation, an ongoing research program funded by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) aims to disperse infectious genetically modified viruses that have been engineered to edit crop chromosomes directly in fields. This is genetic engineering through horizontal transfer, as opposed to vertical inheritance. The regulatory, biological, economic, and societal implications of dispersing such horizontal environmental genetic alteration agents (HEGAAs) into ecosystems are profound. Further, this program stipulates that the means of delivery of these viral HEGAAs into the environment should be insect-based dispersion (1). 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 (BWC).
    Nothing to fear, it is sure that everything will remain under control or be used as intended (-on crop only of course-)

    To be honest prospects are terrifying with a large chance of mi-use or devious use

  • #2
    Our country...surrounded and isolated by miles of sea relies on legumes to fix nitrogen naturally in the soil for grass growth. It was odd that two of the worst invasive species that destroy said legume arrive at the same place miles from a port or airport and near centre of the biggest grass growing district.

    They bought in a parasitic wasp to stop one of them but its never the same again.

    Recently spliced some gene that makes mosquitoes produce males exclusively.

    It could be a good thing as much as bad. Hopefully we have learnt enough to do it right





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    • #3
      Originally posted by Mordoror View Post
      To be honest prospects are terrifying with a large chance of mi-use or devious use
      A Ruski scientist offered the US a solution to Afghanistan some years ago - a gene edited poppy - the story goes that in the first year it produces seed and that germinates - same happens in second year - third year all the seed is sterile

      At that stage no one has any viable seed - poppy harvest is nil and Afghans have no money to support the Taliban - leave and let them fight among themselves

      US refused as they need the morphine

      The French scientist and people from the east is an even more interesting story - he disappeared and is now working for the Americans (not published anything for ages/since) but that was an editable virus that just went after specific genes - nasty

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      • #4
        Originally posted by primer View Post
        Our country...surrounded and isolated by miles of sea relies on legumes to fix nitrogen naturally in the soil for grass growth. It was odd that two of the worst invasive species that destroy said legume arrive at the same place miles from a port or airport and near centre of the biggest grass growing district.

        They bought in a parasitic wasp to stop one of them but its never the same again.

        Recently spliced some gene that makes mosquitoes produce males exclusively.

        It could be a good thing as much as bad. Hopefully we have learnt enough to do it right




        Given the recent results of pest control by use of biological predators i wont be so optmistic. We are doing the same mistakes again and again.
        See cane toad or euglandina snail for example

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        • #5
          They took time to evaluate this wasp. A species specific type but you are right we are clumsy, short term economic gain for unknown long term pain.

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