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Reading Group: DARPA Program Controversies

  • The Berkeley REACH 3045 Shattuck Avenue Berkeley, CA, 94705 United States (map)

This month we will be discussing controversies surrounding two DARPA programs, Insect Allies and Safe Genes.

Insect Allies aims to use insect vectors to transfer genes to plants via genetically modified viruses in order to protect crops against novel threats. Recently, scientists raised concerns about the program, noting how developing technologies to widely disperse infectious genetically modified viruses could facilitate a new form of biowarfare.

Insect Allies overview: https://www.darpa.mil/news-events/2016-10-19
Science article criticizing Insect Allies: https://drive.google.com/file/d/15lf1_kLQNP7llxsm69CZQpm9sFMr87vz/view?usp=sharing
DARPA response to Science article: https://www.darpa.mil/attachments/DARPA%20Response%20to%20Science%20Opinion%20Piece%20-%20Oct%204%202018.pdf

Safe Genes aims to develop gene editing technologies in a manner that emphasizes biosafety and biosecurity. Last year, a trove of e-mails between those involved in the Safe Genes program (the "Gene Drive Files") were released under a Freedom of Information Act request; some civil society organizations raised concerns that these e-mails revealed a covert effort by DARPA to advance gene drive technology.

Safe Genes overview: https://www.darpa.mil/news-events/2017-07-19
Criticism of Safe Genes based on the "Gene Drive Files": http://genedrivefiles.synbiowatch.org/2017/12/01/us-military-gene-drive-development/
DARPA response to criticism: http://genedrivefiles.synbiowatch.org/2017/12/07/response-from-darpa-to-gene-drive-files/

This takes place at REACH, the rationalist and effective altruism community hub. No need to call anyone to get in, just come to the front door and knock. This event is open to both people familiar with and new to thinking about biosecurity. It is baby-in-arms friendly, but not child-friendly.

Earlier Event: October 24
iGEM Giant Jamboree