Gene editing of plant chromosomes is part of the Insect Allies program?


"Plant viruses hold significant promise as carriers of gene editing circuitry and are a natural partner for an insect-transmitted delivery platform. "

Page 4 of 2016 DARPA work plan.




“What we want to do is identify viruses that have very limited negative effects on any hosts and then remove any possibility of negative outcomes from them, and use those as our shuttles to get genetic material placed into the plant's genome

12th Jan 2017 DARPA project manager

16 second clip (time point 13:07) from “voice from DARPA” podcast



After October 5th 2018 there appears to be an attempt to suggest that conferring gene editing capabilities to plant viruses was never part of the Insect Allies program.




“..Well, so 'modify' is kind of overstating it, we are actually working with viruses that provide transient protection to plants, so it is a protection that does not incorporate into the chromosomes..“

29th Oct 2018 the same DARPA project manager as above.

44 second clip  (time point 12:32) of very informative radio interview by  ELSA PARTAN & HEATHER GOLDSTON, Living Lab Radio on WCAI




Below is a collection of quotes from 2016 -2017 documents from the start of the Insect Allies program that makes it clear that gene editing of plants by viruses is a core part of the Insect Allies program (i.e. HEGAAs development). The pivot away from this very clearly and repeatedly  stated goal towards an approach called transient expression (that does not genetically modify plant chromosomes), appears to only occur subsequent to the publication of the Science article in October 5th 2018. The pivot is not even present in the DARPA response document circulated to journalists during the  Science  embargo period   (October 1st - 5th,  this response was clearly written with the full text of the Science article available to DARPA, that repeatedly discusses gene editing of plant chromosomes by HEGAA viruses).  Only after publication is there an apparent pivot away from the original goal towards an established technique called ‘ transient expression'. This technique is already successfully established through the spraying of GM plant viruses onto plants in experimental fields [1]. This appears to rather undermines the claim that DARPA has a unique charter to [only] pursue revolutionary and technologically high-risk projects that go well beyond the incremental advances typical of many other research and development organizations.


Of course it  does not follow that all three GM viral consortia plan to or had planned to develop systems to edit plant chromosomes in fields. Though in the case of the Ohio State consortia, it appears rather unambiguous that this was their plan and quite likely in the case of at least one of the others.


Subsequent to the October 5th publication  of the Science  article these quotes are 2018 statements which appear to only confuse the role of gene editing of plant chromosomes (at least among the 3 consortia).



2016-2017

Ohio State consortia 

„The project relies on a fairly new technology called CRISPR-Cas9 that can modify a DNA sequence in plants, animals and humans, “

Ohio State scientists make plant virus system “turn onits head” with insect research (2017);

 https://www.thelantern.com/2017/12/ohio-state-scientists-to-make-plant-virus-system-turn-on-its-head-with-insect-research/

 

Ohio State consortia 

„CRISPR Makes [this] Research Possible“

InsectAllies:HowtheEnemiesofCornMaySomedaySave It (2017);

 https://cals.ncsu.edu/news/insect-allies-how- the-enemies-of-corn-may-someday-save-it/

 

DARPA funder

„“Genetic modification of plants has historically been done only to plant embryos inside of laboratories using tissue cultures,” Bextine said. “Transforming mature plants en masse would be an enormous achievement and pave the way for future breakthroughs in agriculture.”“

 DARPA Enlists Insects to Protect Agricultural Food Supply & Commodity Crops. R&D Mag. (2016);

www.rdmag.com/ news/2016/10/darpa-enlists-insects-protect-agricul- tural-food-supply-commodity-crops.


 DARPA funder- 2016 work plan 

Note the “genetic alteration agent” part of the acronym HEGAA comes from page 4 of  2016 DARPA work plan.


DARPA funder- 2016 work plan 

"2. Detail the virus, insect vector, and gene editing platform that will be utilized in this system.

[..]

5. Detail the approach to identifying, monitoring, and measuring off-target effects and provide an outline for the containment of the genetic editors and target species during development and testing.”

page 19 2016 DARPA work plan.


DARPA funder- 2016 work plan 

"By leveraging the natural ability of insect vectors to deliver viruses with high host plant specificity, and combining this capability with advances in gene editing, rapid enhancement of mature plants in the field can be achieved over large areas and without the need for industrial infrastructure.”

page 4 2016 DARPA work plan.


DARPA funder-website 

“Genetic modification of plants has historically been done only to plant embryos inside of laboratories using tissue cultures,” Bextine said. “Transforming mature plants en masse would be an enormous achievement and pave the way for future breakthroughs in agriculture.”

19th Oct 2016 website 



After Oct 5th 2018

 comments appear to reverse  the central  role of gene editing in the original 2016-2017 Insect Allies program. The first quote implies this is true for all 3 consortia.



DARPA project manager 

“All of our teams are actually working with transient expression systems,” meaning that the introduced genetic material does not alter chromosomes or the germ line, and thus would not affect future plant generations.

The Scientist, Abby Olena, 4th October.


Member of DARPA funded consortium

„Some of the researchers are considering using gene-editing tools like CRISPR to change plant chromosomes, “

Science, Kai Kupferschmidt, 4th October

 

 Member of DARPA funded consortium

„…. That research doesn't involve using technology that edits plants“

E&E news , Courtney Columbus, 4th October



DARPA project manager 

“Well, so 'modify' is kind of overstating it, we are actually working with viruses that provide transient protection to plants, so it is a protection that does not incorporate into the chromosomes..“

29th Oct 2018 DARPA project 44 second clip  (time point 12:32) of very informative radio interview by  ELSA PARTAN & HEATHER GOLDSTON, Living Lab Radio on WCAI

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