The UK government recently announced an £800 million, taxpayer-funded Advanced Research and Invention Agency (Aria). The brainchild of the British prime minister’s former chief adviser, Dominic Cummings and modelled on the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Darpa, the organisation will focus partly on genomic research.
Genome technology is becoming an increasingly important part of military research.
So given that the UK boasts some of the best genomic research centres in the world, how will its new agency affect the wider genome technology warfare race?
In 2019, Darpa announced that it wishes to explore genetically editing soldiers. It has also invested over US$65 million (£45 million) to improve the safety and accuracy of genome-editing technologies. These include the famous Nobel prize-winning Crispr-Cas molecular scissor – a tool that can edit DNA by cutting and pasting sections of it.
But the ease of accessibility and low cost of Crispr-based technologies has caused concern around potential military genetic modification and weaponisation of viruses or bacteria. These include smallpox or tuberculosis, and could be extremely destructive.