Policy ForumDual-Use Research

Agricultural research, or a new bioweapon system?

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Science  05 Oct 2018:
Vol. 362, Issue 6410, pp. 35-37
DOI: 10.1126/science.aat7664

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  • The Insect Allies Program: Further risks to be addressed

    In their commentary “Agricultural research, or a new bioweapon system?” (5 October 2018, pp. 35-37) on the risks associated with the Insect Allies Program, Reeves at al. (1) raise a number of important issues. Here follow some other relevant issues that should be added to their list. (a) The technology requires the release of a huge number of insects. A sound cost-benefit analysis is required. [Biological and Integrated Pest Management approaches use different species and practices (2)]. (b) Plants need to suffer prior damage by insects in order to get infected by GM viruses Damage weakens plants and exposes them to the attack of pests (i.e., bacteria and fungi) (3). (c) Insects are known to harbour and transmit a vast range of viruses, bacteria and fungi. Interaction of GM viruses with this “ecosystem” should be addressed. (d) The species used to deliver the GM viruses are phytophagous insects, which are eaten by a several animals (i.e., other insects, reptiles, amphibians, birds, mammals and, in some regions, humans too, as in the case of grasshoppers). The risks posed by GM viruses to biodiversity deserve to be addressed.
    In 1976, Erwin Chargaff (whose studies contributed to the discovery of DNA) published a paper in Science that was prophetically entitled “On the dangers of genetic meddling” (4). Chargaff forecasted that a deregulated genetic-engineering rush could pose extreme risks to the future of humans, and called for a public debate on the issue. He warned...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.
  • Duality of research

    R. G. Reeves et al. wrote an article entitled “Agricultural research, or a new bioweapon system?” (1). As far as we know, duality of physical phenomena can be simply observed. For example, Peltier devices have been used for cooling and heating. Providing the temperature difference between two sides of a Peltier device can generate electric power which is called Seebeck effect. LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes) can be used as sensors or cameras. In other words, PC screen or TV screen can be used as camera sensor. The physical phenomena or their components always have duality. The result of peaceful research can be used for developing dangerous weapons. Any technology for human-aid systems or weapons can be dual-used. All we need to do is to create regulations (laws) and rigorous checking systems against unethical technology uses (2).

    References:
    1. R. G. Reeves et al., Agricultural research, or a new bioweapon system?, Science 05 Oct 2018: Vol. 362, Issue 6410, pp. 35-37
    2. George Lucas, The automated battlefield, Science 27 Apr 2018: Vol. 360, Issue 6387, pp. 386

    Competing Interests: None declared.