What’s the News: DARPA wants to fund research into technologies that could be built into the genome of microorganisms and keep track of any changes made to the organism’s genes, according a call for proposals the agency made earlier this month. In other words, DARPA wants to “turn on Track Changes” in certain viruses and bacteria.
What’s the Context:
- This genetic surveillance technology would help safeguard intellectual property, DARPA says. (See this PDF for the full description of the request.) Patenting genes has proven controversial enough on its own, so high-tech policing of these patents is unlikely to go down easy.
- Second, this technology could be used for “providing secure access” to dangerous pathogens or “proprietary microorganisms.” In other words, they want it to password-protect bugs, for reasons of health and/or commerce.
- DARPA isn’t shy about asking for proposals that are more than a bit off the wall: how to make a cannon that can fire people onto a tall roof, for instance, or a Jestons-esque flying car.
How the Heck: No idea. And, judging by its description, DARPA isn’t too sure either. The agency is asking for “multidisciplinary research proposals” and gives a nod to “possibly utilizing a cryptographical or complex mathematical approach.”
Image: Wellcome Images / Peter Artymiuk