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DARPA Agricultural Effort Raises Questions Over Dual-Use Biological Research, Holds Potential

Washington Post: A Pentagon program involving insects comes with risks — and huge potential
Editorial Board

“…The end goal [of the $45 million research effort announced by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in November 2016] will be to conduct large, contained greenhouse demonstrations in which maize and tomato plants are infected by viruses transported by insects … The hope is that viruses could be precisely tailored using sophisticated tools to deliver a specific result in the plant, far more quickly than, say, attempting to stimulate changes across generations of plant growth. … [I]f it works, [this research effort] could be of significant benefit to mankind. Without question, [some] European skeptics are right to raise questions about this dual-use research, meaning the program could be adapted, in theory, for malign intent. But much research in biology is dual-use by its very nature. Research facilities that produce lifesaving drugs and therapies can be used to create harmful agents and weapons. … The skeptics say … that they worry the DARPA program could be ‘easily weaponized.’ … No one can ever be sure that bad actors won’t attempt something foolish, but fear should not paralyze a research program of such large potential. The best antidote to these concerns is rigorous oversight, transparency, and regulation, which DARPA argues it has put in place. The right course is to proceed, with caution and care” (11/4).

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