Saturday, October 13, 2018

Biological Weapon: DARPA's Virus-Carrying Bugs

DARPA secretively conduct Insect Allies Program ''Entomology'' in pursuing a bioweapon. 
Experts worry about the United States military project that could be a covert program to develop bio-weapons. The Pentagon’s top research outfits and its development arm Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) has been working on the project since 2016. 

European scientists and researchers have called for greater clarity about a U.S. military program that is looking into whether insects carrying tailored viruses could rapidly genetically modify plants to resist naturally-occurring and man-made biological threats. The concern is that this research might also serve as the basis for a biological weapon or simply create fears that it is a cover for such a project. The US has been already involved in Entomology programs during the Cold War attempting to develop and use insects as a means for waging biological warfare. 

Russia pointed out that the United States is running a covert biological weapons program out of a laboratory in Georgia. The international community is calling for more transparency about the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Insect Allies program, which was appeared in the journal Science on Oct. 4, 2018. DARPA Wants to Use Fish and other sea-life like dolphins to track enemy Submarines. (This was posted by Joseph Trevithick in The War Zone)  “Food security is national security,” Blake Bextine, who leads up the program at DARPA, told The Associated Press. “DARPA plans to harness the power of this natural system by engineering genes inside plant viruses that can be transmitted by insects to confer protective traits to the target plants they feed upon,” he explained.



DARPA’s idea is based on the Recombinant technology of studying how insects naturally carry viruses and then infect plants with them. Using genetically modified viruses, scientists could potentially use bugs to quickly inoculate crops and other plants across a broad area against blights and man-made biological weapons. They might even be able to alter the genetic structure of the flora to be more resilient against those threats in the future. All of this would help protect the crops and plants against mass plaque, which could have potentially devastating and far-reaching impacts.

The etymology of Genetic modification of plants is hardly new, but historically involved selective breeding and other techniques to achieve the desired results, which would not work nearly fast enough to respond to a widespread crisis, such as a biological weapon attack. Industrial agriculture (Agrobiotech)now also includes genetically modifying seeds to enhance crop productivity and increase yield. An initial phase of the program, which DARPA conducted incorporating with the Department of Agriculture in a contained laboratory setting, demonstrated it was possible to use small insects called aphids infected with a modified virus to temporarily impart a new trait into mature plants. The goal remains to see if it is possible to create lasting genetic changes in the same way.


Molecular Experiment
European researchers have called for greater clarity about a U.S. military program that is looking into whether insects carrying tailored viruses could rapidly genetically modify plants to resist naturally-occurring and man-made biological threats.
The civilian and humanitarian benefits of the Insect Allies program somehow not clear. Unfortunately, so are more malign applications. The entire project is predicated on the reality that insects already infect plants with disease. If scientists are capable of altering what viruses they carry to shield plants against certain dangers, it is just as feasible that they could carry deliberately engineered threats. There’s also the concern that such a virus might have a positive impact on one type of plant, might have negative effects on others. There’s no guarantee the infected insects would choose to stay inside designated areas, either.

Of course, there’s no guarantee DARPA’s program will actually lead to any sort of practical result and some scientists have questioned whether the Insect Allies idea could ever work. The U.S. military as a whole has previously explored using insects to attack opponents physically, detect bombs, and more, none of which made it into widespread use although there was some breakthrough somewhere.  The U.S. government, for its part, maintains that the program is in no way developing a bioweapon and is within the limitations of the Biological Weapons Convention, an international arms control agreement to which the United States is a party. But the authors of the piece in Science contend that the mere potential of the project to become a weapon may leave other countries with no option but to treat it as such and pursue their own similar research.

“The pure fact that this is a military program would naturally raise these sorts of questions,” Todd Kuiken, a senior researcher at North Carolina State University who raised similar concerns about Insect Allies in 2017, told The Associated Press. He added that he does not believe the U.S. government is actually looking to develop an insect-borne biological weapon. “It's really about how it's perceived,” Dr. R. Guy Reeves, one of the co-authors of the piece in Science who is a biologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology in Germany, explained to The Associated Press. It is his opinion that the technology, DARPA working on through Insect Allies makes much more sense as a weapon than as a safeguard.


Maj. Gen. Igor Kirillov
Maj. Gen. Igor Kirillov, the head of the Russian military’s radiation, biological and chemical protection troops speaks during a briefing in the Russian Defense Ministry’s headquarters in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018. Russia’s Defense Ministry says the United States appears to be running a clandestine biological weapons lab in the country of Georgia.
The U.S. has already weathered allegations that it used insects as vectors to spread diseases that would affect people, animals, and plants during the Cold War.  The Soviet intelligence agents uncover much evidence of this plot. With all this in mind, there is also a potential for negative perceptions about Insect Allies, right or wrong, to get weaponized itself. On the same day the article in Science came out, Russia publicly pointed to the United States of covertly running a biological weapons program under the cover of a civilian laboratory.

"To hide the true nature and purpose of this facility it was formally included in Georgia’s health care system,” Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Oct. 4, 2018. “The US provides no information on these dual-use activities as part of the confidence-building measures of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention.”

United States funding the establishment of the Richard G. Lugar Center for Public Health Research in Tbilisi, Georgia. The Georgian National Center for Disease Control and Public Health (NCDC), an analogue to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) runs the facility, which conducts research on infectious diseases in humans and animals to guard against epidemics and biological attacks.


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