DARPA, Insects, Mad Science, and Us: Nowhere to Hide
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12 min read

DARPA, Insects, Mad Science, and Us: Nowhere to Hide

STORY AT-A-GLANCE BREAKING NEWS: The craziest crazies have somehow escaped the asylum and installed themselves in high positions of power.
DARPA, Insects, Mad Science, and Us: Nowhere to Hide

Insane, they are coming up with one bad idea after another and barking orders at us, mad shine in their eyes and saliva coming out of their mouths. They are crazy — and in charge of institutions, schools, newspapers and armies. They are running around with their high-tech pistols filled with high-tech poisons and their little sadistic CRISPR scissors. They are crazy — yes, they are crazy — and they are killing us slowly, and sometimes not so slowly. Welcome to the future where toxicity is

health and the old crazy is the new normal. We are not crazy — they are crazy — and they have been from the beginning. And in 2020, they stopped pretending. What now?

Project “Insect Allies”

You may think that you have seen it all but here is a great idea. Take some insects, infect them with a genetically modified virus designed to genetically edit mature plants in real time, and release them. Release them into wild and repeat, “it's safe and effective.” Sweet idea, right? Well, DARPA thought so, and so in 2016, they started a project called “ Insect Allies ” that is designed to do that. (This is a different project from Oxitec's controversial release of GM mosquitos .) DARPA's oficial story is that in the name of national security, a good way to protect the American crops from potential threats is to genetically modify them using GM viruses as genetic modifiers and insects as fiying syringes. And that they just need to test it!

In a 2016 release titled, “DARPA Enlists Insects to Protect Agricultural Food Supply,” the agency stated:

“A new DARPA program is poised to provide an alternative to traditionalagricultural threat response, using targeted gene therapy to protect matureplants within a single growing season.DARPA proposes to leverage a natural and very eficient two-step deliverysystem to transfer modified genes to plants: insect vectors and the plantviruses they transmit. In the process, DARPA aims to transform certain insectpests into ‘Insect Allies,' the name of the new effort.”“‘Insect Allies' three technical areas — trait design, insect vector optimization,and selective gene therapy in mature plants — layer together to support the goalof rapidly transforming mature plants to protect against natural or intentionalagricultural disruption without the need for extensive infrastructure. Thefoundational knowledge and generalizable tools developed under the programcould also support future agricultural innovation.”

Some suspicious peasants may foolishly wonder: What will happen in the short term and in the long term to the people who eat those plants, to the people and animals possibly bitten by those insects, to the wild insects who mate with the infected insects, and to all other life in the area and beyond that may get impacted? What ridiculous nonsense. Here is the answer, peasant: No one knows — and importantly, no one cares. Any more questions? The first Insect Allies funded paper , titled, “Multiplexed heritable gene editing using RNA viruses and mobile single guide RNAs,” was published in 2020. Please note the word “heritable” in the headline. The paper stated:

“Mutant progeny are recovered in the next generation at frequencies rangingfrom 65 to 100%; up to 30% of progeny derived from plants infected with a virusexpressing three sgRNAs have mutations in all three targeted loci.”

DARPA never disclosed if they tested this program outside of greenhouses.

Objections From the Scientific Community and Even the Pre-2020 Media

Actually, it turned out that a few scientists care — and at least during the pre-COVID era, they have objected. Here is a short 2019 educational animation made by the German Max Planck Society (formerly the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History). Their main objection is the potential weaponization of the technology, they don't mind the gene editing in principle. But our standards for health and dignity are so low that this objection is better than no objection, and even this limited kind of objection and questioning DARPA takes some courage (even though it's unknown if they would have objected in 2020). And here is what Vice (!!) had to say in 2018 about the outcry from scientists:

“In the editorial, published on Thursday in Science Magazine, scientists fromthe Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology and the University of Freiburgin Germany, and France's Université de Montpellier, requested moretransparency and opportunities for public discussion regarding the project andits implications.‘Easy simplifications could be used to generate a new class of biologicalweapons,' a press release reads, ‘weapons that would be extremelytransmissible to susceptible crop species due to insect dispersion as themeans of delivery.'”

What did DARPA say?

“In an email to Motherboard, a DARPA spokesperson rebutted the thesis of theScience Magazine piece and denied any intent to deploy technology developedthrough Insect Allies in an offensive setting.‘We created Insect Allies specifically to develop technology that can deliverpositive, protective traits to plants to help them survive unanticipated and/orfast-moving agricultural threats,' the spokesperson wrote. ‘We see it as a criticaladdition to the national security toolkit, part of a layered strategy to preservethe security of the food supply.'”“The Insect Allies program is a collaboration between the Defense AdvancedResearch Projects Agency (DARPA), Environmental Protection Agency, US Army,and other agencies. According to a DARPA slide presentation, the goal of InsectAllies is to “stably transform multiple mature crop plants in a complex, multi-species plant and insect community with enhanced trait(s) of agriculturalinterest” by mid-2021.”

Newsweek covered it, too. In a 2018 article , they said that “the U.S. government's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has been accused of trying to create a new class of biological weapons that would be delivered via virus-infected insects.”

“Scientists with DARPA are looking at introducing genetically modified virusesthat can edit chromosomes directly in fields — these are known as horizontalenvironmental genetic alteration agents (HEGAAs). The DARPA program isusing the principles of HEGAAs but, unlike traditional methods of dispersal —like spraying fields with them — it wants to spread them through insects.”

The researchers raising the alarm asked specifically why, for agricultural use, it was so important to use insects as gene modification vectors, given that spraying was available. In response to Newsweek at the time, DARPA denied all allegations of military use and reiterated that the project's aim was to protect American crops. In 2022, another paper was published where researchers expressed their concerns:

“The hazard and exposure potential of an HEGAA approach can vary greatlydepending on the viruses, vector insects, target plant species, and geneticmodifications selected and their effects. However, at the current stage ofdevelopment, the most critical aspect is the compromised reliability of theHEGAA approach, owing mainly to its complex design with three differentspecies ...They are a cause for concern because of the numerous effects that canincrease the potential for hazard and exposure. Combined with the currentinadequacy of corrective measures, it is clear that there is an urgent need forearly analysis of whether HEGAA approaches can be inherently contained andcontrolled by their specific technology design.”

“Horizontal Environmental Genetic Alteration Agents”

What are HEGAAs? According to Wikipedia , the term “genetic alteration agent” first appears in 2016 in relation to this project, in a “work plan by DARPA describing a tender for contracts to develop genetically modified plant viruses for an approach involving their dispersion into the environment. The prefixing of ‘horizontal environmental' to the former to generate the acronym HEGAA was first used in the [ aforementioned ] 2018 scientific publication.”

“Agents such as pathogens, symbionts or synthetic protein assemblages thatcan be acquired through horizontal transmission in the environment canpotentially be engineered to become HEGAAs. This would be achieved usingbiotechnology methods to confer to them the capacity to alter nucleotides inthe chromosomes of infected individuals through sequence-specific editingsystems like CRISPR, ZFNs or TALENs.No known infectious agent naturally has the capacity to gene edit eukaryotes ina manner that can be fiexibly targeted to specific sequences (distinct fromsubstantially random natural processes like retroviral integration).”“By definition, HEGAA induced gene editing events are intended to occuroutside of contained facilities such as laboratories or hospitals.While genetically modified viruses with CRISPR editing have been successfullyused as research tools in laboratories or for gene therapy in clinical settings, allgene editing events are intended to physically occur within contained facilities.By contrast, HEGAAs for their intended mode of action relies on inducing geneediting events that occur largely or exclusively in the environment.”
  • HEGAAs are viruses which have been genetically modified to gain a capacity to edit
  • the chromosomes of a target species (e.g. plant or animal) when intentionally
  • released into the environment
  • The word “horizontal” comes from their ability to be transmitted in the environment
  • by infection
  • The word “environmental” comes from the intention for these genetically modified
  • viruses to be dispersed into the environment
  • The words “genetic alteration agents” comes from the capacity to alter the
  • chromosomes of a target species. This might be through causing a random mutation
  • or introducing a new DNA sequence
  • The specificity of HEGAAs is dependent on two things (1) the range of species the
  • genetically modified virus can infect AND (2) the presence of the suitable DNA
  • sequences in the plant chromosomes of cells that become infected
  • An example of an insect dispersed viral HEGAA which disrupts a specific plant gene
  • is illustrated in this figure below

There are two types of HEGAAs: somatic and germline. Somatic HEGAAs are not inheritable, while germline ones “impact somatic cells and also cell lineages from which germline cells can be ultimately generated (e.g. sperm, oocytes, pollen, ovules, zygotes or seeds).” When it comes to the “Insect Allies” project, it's a gray area. The original assumption was that “Insect Allies” involved somatic HEGAAs but the aforementioned 2020 paper shows that the genetic changes in plants were heritable. Here is more detail : HEGAAs are viruses which have been genetically modified to gain a capacity to edit the chromosomes of a target species (e.g. plant or animal) when intentionally released into the environment The word “horizontal” comes from their ability to be transmitted in the environment by infection The word “environmental” comes from the intention for these genetically modified viruses to be dispersed into the environment The words “genetic alteration agents” comes from the capacity to alter the chromosomes of a target species. This might be through causing a random mutation or introducing a new DNA sequence The specificity of HEGAAs is dependent on two things (1) the range of species the genetically modified virus can infect AND (2) the presence of the suitable DNA sequences in the plant chromosomes of cells that become infected An example of an insect dispersed viral HEGAA which disrupts a specific plant gene is illustrated in this figure below

All in all, this informational Max Planck Society afiliated website , whose purpose is “to contribute towards fostering an informed and public debate about this type of technology,” is one of the best sources of information on HEGAAs and the “Insect Allies” project. Incidentally, this particular website covers self-spreading vaccines as well. Here is a little video promo of the Euroscience Open Forum 2020: And here it the actual 2020 panel (some of it is already outdated but very educational):

“Project Coast”

One of the panelists above mentions “Project Coast” is South Africa — and while it is not directly related to “Insect Allies,” it kind of is. “ Project Coast ” was a toxin and bioweapon development project that took place in South Africa during the apartheid era. As a part of that project, scientists developed covert assassination tools and methods of covert sterilization, intended against the black population of South Africa. A warning? No really, a warning?

Back to DARPA

Here is more from the MPS-afiliated informational website :

“Even as the halfway point of the Insect Allies program approaches, DARPA haschosen not to publicly describe in its response to our Science article what is thebasis of their having concluded that a developmental pathway exists thatcircumvents the early proliferation of biological weapons (described by theblack development path in the accompanying image).This is in addition to explaining in detail why their developmental plan is easierto develop than alternative paths (described by the red paths). As our Sciencearticle makes clear, this is central to justifying the wisdom of embarking on thedevelopment of HEGAAs, and many other types of GM viruses.Over the next five years, only a minority of anticipated CRISPR-inspiredinnovations will involve intentional environmental releases (see recent NASreport). HEGAAs, and some other GM viruses, have the property of an early-stage biological weapons proliferation risk that is not shared with most otherproposed techniques (including avant-garde ones like gene drive).Choosing not to clearly address these obvious issues of global concern, asdetailed in the Science article, makes their current model of develop first andexplain later an especially unwise path, particularly for this insect-deliveredprogram, that in many ways appears to be designed to get carried away.”

Living Foundries

To provide a backdrop for the “Insect Allies” project, here is a brief look at the DARPA “ Living Foundries ” bioengineering program, launched in 2010. DARPA's Living Foundries program aims to “enable adaptable, scalable, and on-demand production of critical, high-value molecules by programming the fundamental metabolic processes of biological systems to generate a vast number of complex molecules.”

“Programming Biological Systems”

In order to orient ourselves in this attempted new normal, we need to understand the mindset. Please note the use of term “engineer” all throughout this benevolent-sounding presentation:

DARPA's Biological Technologies Ofice

DARPA's Biological Technologies Ofice was founded in 2014. Here is an informational video on, in their own words, “DARPA's way of thinking about biological technology to defend the homeland.” According to DARPA's website :

“DARPA has enjoyed a strong relationship with Silicon Valley since the early1960s, working with innovators to lay the groundwork for new industries builtaround Agency investments in semiconductors, networking, artificialintelligence, user interfaces, programming, materials, microsystems, and more.[We knew that!!!] Biotech is now emerging as a breakthrough opportunity spaceand it represents an area that is ripe for fresh collaboration among DARPA, thenation's top researchers, venture capitalists, and entrepreneurs.”
  • Building with Biology Using Engineered Living Materials, which focused on
  • programming DNA to grow materials to specifications at the sites where they are
  • needed and developing living materials that are responsive to their environments and
  • can heal when damaged;
  • Staying on Target: Minimizing Off-Target Effects in Gene Editing, which focused on
  • making personalized medicine feasible by conducting rapid, low-cost screens of an
  • individual's likely responses to tailored gene therapy;
  • Creating a Pandemic-free World, which focused on DARPA's vision of distributed
  • healthcare that combines technology to detect pandemic outbreaks, rapidly identify
  • and grow potent antibodies to fight infectious disease, and response tools for
  • creating a pandemic firebreak;
  • Immunity on Demand [emphasis mine]
  • , which focused on rapidly developing and
  • delivering nucleic-acid-based protections against infectious disease;
  • Failing Faster: De-Risking the Path to FDA Approval, which focused on using organ-
  • on-chip technology to better predict the eficacy of new drugs in the development
  • pipeline;
  • A Real-time Window into Your Body's Chemistry, which focused on tissue-integrating
  • in vivo biosensors to continuously monitor physiology over the long term to predict
  • the onset of disease;
  • Reinventing Psychiatry Using Neurotechnology, which focused on using implanted,
  • closed-loop neural systems to record and stimulate the brain to treat
  • neuropsychiatric illness;
  • MindFlight: Your Brain Will Be Your Pilot Today, which focused on direct neural
  • control of complex physical systems;
  • Memory Enhancement in Everyday Life, which focused on non-invasive electrical and
  • auditory stimulation technology to enhance memory by facilitating the neural replay
  • process

Here are some of the listed topic of interests: Building with Biology Using Engineered Living Materials, which focused on programming DNA to grow materials to specifications at the sites where they are needed and developing living materials that are responsive to their environments and can heal when damaged; Staying on Target: Minimizing Off-Target Effects in Gene Editing, which focused on making personalized medicine feasible by conducting rapid, low-cost screens of an individual's likely responses to tailored gene therapy; Creating a Pandemic-free World, which focused on DARPA's vision of distributed healthcare that combines technology to detect pandemic outbreaks, rapidly identify and grow potent antibodies to fight infectious disease, and response tools for creating a pandemic firebreak; Immunity on Demand [emphasis mine] , which focused on rapidly developing and delivering nucleic-acid-based protections against infectious disease; Failing Faster: De-Risking the Path to FDA Approval, which focused on using organ- on-chip technology to better predict the eficacy of new drugs in the development pipeline; A Real-time Window into Your Body's Chemistry, which focused on tissue-integrating in vivo biosensors to continuously monitor physiology over the long term to predict the onset of disease; Reinventing Psychiatry Using Neurotechnology, which focused on using implanted, closed-loop neural systems to record and stimulate the brain to treat neuropsychiatric illness; MindFlight: Your Brain Will Be Your Pilot Today, which focused on direct neural control of complex physical systems; Memory Enhancement in Everyday Life, which focused on non-invasive electrical and auditory stimulation technology to enhance memory by facilitating the neural replay process Is it me, or is it that the crazies are running the asylum?

Remote-Controlled Insects

If you think that you have now seen it all, well, you haven't. Here is a video of scientists in Singapore torturing live insects and turning them into cyborgs. Horrifying. And here is, you guessed it, DARPA :

“Through a DARPA-funded program, scientists at the University of Californiainvented a tiny rig that connects to an insect's brain and fiight muscles. Onceimplanted, the device takes over the insect's body, turning it into a remotecontrol cyborg capable of receiving fiight commands wirelessly from a nearbylaptop.”

It's all good and fun (not really, more like a horror movie), and we could close our eyes — but will it be fun if the emboldened crazies try to remote-control your children?

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