It almost sounds like part of the plot of a science fiction film: the Pentagon is studying bioengineering with the idea of creating an army of insects that could be used to protect our crops. The question becomes, what happens next? Does everything go as planned or do we find ourselves in something resembling the classic movie Them!?

Protecting our crops

The theory behind the Pentagon’s idea is sound, even if it sounds like science fiction. They want to use the advancing biotechnology and genetic engineering fields to create an army of insects that could be used to protect and improve crop yields in a variety of ways.

Mississippi Crops

The main idea is that the bioengineered insects could be used as a rapid, wide-spread delivery system for genetically engineered viruses which could help plants combat all types of negative conditions, from natural droughts and blights to enemy bioweapons.

“Insect Allies” or opening Pandora’s Box?

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, has named this project “Insect Allies.” They hope the friendly name will help alleviate any fears.

However, a team of suspicious scientists has already written a report comparing the project to opening Pandora’s Box and warns that the project, “may be widely perceived as an effort to develop biological agents for hostile purposes and their means of delivery”.

Safe, but dual use

Blake Bextine, DARPA’s manager for the “Insect Allies” program pushed back against the article, stating that the program has already been reviewed by different governmental agencies and has many safeguards built in.

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

However, Bextine does also admit that, as with nearly any advanced technology, the program could be seen as dual use. The insects could be deployed to protect our own crops or, almost as easily, deployed to attack someone else’s.