The U.S. military was involved in the creation of the internet and GPS, but now it is apparently interested in something potentially far more sinister: genetic extinction technology. The Guardian reported Monday that emails show that the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency — the Department of Defense's main research arm — is now the world's largest funder of "gene drive" research, which uses modified genes to rapidly spread desirable genetic traits in animals.
In the case of genetic extinction technology, "selfish" genes that cause infertility can pass from parent to offspring at rates as high as 99 percent. Scientists could also, for example, attempt to edit genes to make all the future offspring of a certain species male, thus preventing reproduction and bringing about extinction.
The Guardian noted that DARPA has invested $100 million into gene drive technology's development and application — a sum that is $35 million more than what was previously reported. Some scientists warn that the military's interest in genetic editing is quite dangerous, too: One biology expert for the United Nations told The Guardian that he worried the technology will enable humans to "do something irreversible to the environment, despite our good intentions, before we fully appreciate the way that this technology will work."
The emails in question were obtained by the ETC Group, an international organization focused on "ecological diversity and human rights," through Freedom of Information Act requests. In the past, DARPA has funded research into gene-drive mosquitoes in African countries, in an effort to eradicate malaria.