Genetic engineering technology extends far beyond food, with uses ranging from medicine to creating novel species of animals and everything in between.
One of the most controversial uses of genetic engineering is through gene drives, a process which has also been dubbed “genetic extinction technology” for its ability to potentially wipe out large numbers or perhaps even entire species of pests such as malaria-carrying mosquitoes.
But because of the possible unintended consequences of this immensely powerful technology, the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is now debating whether or not to impose a moratorium on the gene research next year, and several countries in the southern hemisphere reportedly are concerned about possible military uses for the technology.
Now, the United States military has been revealed as the top funder of the technology according to over 1,200 newly-released emails, and there’s even a connection to the Gates Foundation that has created even further questions surrounding it.
Emails Reveal Who’s Funding “Genetic Extinction” Technology
Most research on gene drives is focused on pest elimination and control, but it has received the “gene extinction” moniker because of the way it works. It may be capable of wiping species of mosquitoes, invasive rodents or other animals that are considered undesirable, but the long-lasting environmental effects are unknown.
The gene drive system creates a scenario in which a genetically altered mosquito for example passes the altered gene down to its offspring, effectively blocking out the original genes in the organism while the altered genes are allowed to spread.
Included in the emails was information that the U.S. military has infused $100 million into the technology.
It was also revealed that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has paid $1.6 million in order to fund a PR lobbying campaign on behalf of the technology, even going as far as to “stack key UN advisory positions with gene drive friendly scientists” according to the ETC Group, using similar tactics as the Monsanto company.
A Monsanto executive also had input on the two classified studies about hostile uses of the technology as well as potential agricultural applications.
“Many countries [will] have concerns when this technology comes from DARPA, a U.S. military science agency,”said one UN diplomat, acknowledging the controversy and potential fear of gene drives that may be likely to arise.
“Gene drives are a powerful and dangerous new technology and potential biological weapons that could have disastrous impacts on peace, food security and the environment, especially if misused,” said Jim Thomas of ETC Group. “The fact that gene drive development is now being primarily funded and structured by the U.S. military raises alarming questions about this entire field.”
Another unnamed UN diplomat had the following to say to The Guardian.
“You may be able to remove viruses or the entire mosquito population, but that may also have downstream ecological effects on species that depend on them.”
“My main worry,” he continued, “is that we do something irreversible to the environment, despite our good intentions, before we fully appreciate the way that this technology will work.”
The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) branch of the military more specifically is the main funder, and the group contains no biodiversity or conservation departments, raising concerns about what their intents or results may end up being.
According to lead gene drive researcher Dr. Kevin Esvelt, however, current gene drives are too powerful to be used in conservation; just part of the reason why moratoriums on the technology have been explored, much to the chagrin of the Gates Foundation and others.
Watch a presentation on how gene drives work from Esvelt by clicking on this link.