IARPA Wants Ways to Protect Nation from Genome Editing

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Gene editing could create pest-resistant crops, but it could also create new organisms that threaten humans, according to IARPA.

The intelligence community is worried the technique used to strengthen crops could also create organisms that could ultimately harm humans.

The intelligence community's research arm is collecting information on ways to detect genome editing, so it can eventually guard against its exploitation by bad actors.

Genome editing may enable "biological breakthroughs," including new medical treatments and "crops that are more nutritious and able to grow in harsh environments," but "the unintentional or deliberate misuse of genome-editing tools may have adverse economic, health and national security implications," according to an Intelligence Advance Research Projects Activity request for information.

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IARPA is not only looking for ways to tell whether an organism's genome has been edited, but also ways to evaluate how effective those detection techniques are. It also wants to be able to predict what might happen to the environment if an "engineered organism" is released into the wild, according to the request for information.

It's not the first time IARPA has expressed concern about gene editing. In June, the agency hosted a Proposers' Day for businesses that can discourage DNA synthesis from being exploited.

That project, Functional Genomic and Computational Assessment of Threats, or Fun GCAT, intends to "prevent accidental or deliberate health hazards to humans and agricultural assets" as a result of "novel organisms."

The deadline for submissions is March 3.