“Agricultural research, or a new bioweapon system?”. This is the question asked by Guy Reeves et al. in a policy forum published in Science today. The evolutionary geneticist from the Max Planck Institute and his German and French coauthors doubt that the Insect Allies program funded by Darpa in the US will realize significant agricultural benefits, e.g. in relation to drought, frost, flooding, herbicide, salinity, or disease. They fear, indeed, that it will be “widely perceived as an effort to develop biological agents for hostile purposes and their delivery, which – if true – would constitute a breach of the Biological Weapons Convention.” Continue reading
“Safe genes” is what it’s called, and it’s a program for the responsible development of gene editing technologies funded with $65 million by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa). The grant will go to seven teams including top scientists such as CRISPR co-inventor Jennifer Doudna and synthetic biologist George Church. Finding reversible ways to control gene editing is a national security issue, in the event CRISPR falls into the wrong hands. But Darpa intends also to foster peaceful applications, by encouraging innovation and mitigating risks which might accidentally arise in civilian labs. Think of new CRISPR variants that can distinguish between highly similar genetic sequences, or molecular mechanisms to finely modulate the technology of gene drives, which is experimented to propagate modifications through entire populations. Continue reading
From the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control website.
«On 24 March 2017, German authorities reported the contamination of a ‘do-it-yourself’ (DIY) Bacterial Gene Engineering CRISPR kit with pathogenic bacteria (risk group 2), including some that are multidrug-resistant with production of Extended Spectrum Beta-Lactamase (ESBL). The kits are produced in the United States and sold over the internet, targeting non-professional users who want to study biology and life science using similar biotechnology engineering tools found in laboratory settings. In its risk assessment published today, ECDC identifies the risk of infection for users of the kits unaware of the contamination with pathogenic agent as low, as the manipulation of the kit does not involve percutaneous injury-prone manipulations. Continue reading