a bottlenose dolphin who has been trained to detect explosives
at a Naval base in California.
Though DARPA has said it won't use intelligent mammals
and endangered species for the project,
the claim is suspect given the U.S. Navy's use of dolphins
and sea lions to detect underwater mines.
ocean critters, including transgenic ones,
Fantastic as this idea
may seem, the Pentagon's research arm,
DARPA (or Defense Advanced
Research Projects Agency), has actually launched a new program that
aims to tap into the "natural sensing capabilities" of marine
organisms, who are highly attuned to their surroundings, to track
enemy traffic undersea.
The project out of DARPA's Biological Technologies Office, called the Persistent Aquatic Living Sensors (PALS) program hopes to use everything from bacteria to large fish to find underwater vehicles by recording the creatures' natural reactions to these vehicles and sending the data to an outside base.
A recent press release about the program said it would,
PALS concept art.
Though the program states
that it won't use transgenic organisms
without appropriate environmental safeguards,
it's highly likely that a GM marine organism,
if released into the ocean,
will interbreed with
a regular one of its kind.
The program is currently seeking proposals that would help capture the responses of marine organisms - both natural and transgenic - to the presence of underwater vehicles, interpret those responses, and relay them to a network of hardware devices.
It is unclear right now as to how this will happen.
DARPA has stated that "intelligent mammals" and endangered species will not be used in the experiments or in the program itself, but it has been vague as to how it defines "intelligent mammals."
Questions as to the involvement of dolphins and other marine mammals arise, particularly since the U.S. Navy, is notorious for holding nearly 100 dolphins captive in San Diego, conducting experiments on them and using them for military purposes.
Though the program states that if any modified organisms are used it would require,
..it is highly likely that a genetically modified marine organism released into the ocean will interbreed with an organism of the same (or similar) species whose genes hadn't been tinkered with.
And as the animals breed with each other, they will cause more and more of their kind to adopt the genetically modified traits.
With time, the entire ocean could be filled with GM creatures and that could lead to changes in marine ecosystems that we can't even begin to anticipate.
DARPA has said it would create and test modified species strictly in,
But as this VICE report points out,
Another worry with genetically modified sea creatures is the likelihood that humans will consume them.
With the amount of fishing and bycatch that currently happens around the world, it is inevitable that many people will end up consuming the GM animals.
(While there has been no conclusive evidence linking GM food to negative health impacts, concerns remain that GMOs may cause yet unknown genetic changes, allergies, or other serious harm to human health.)
These concerns apart, forcing these creatures to be spies for the U.S. military is inherently, morally wrong.
No animal should be a tool for the military. Animals should not be treated as objects that can be altered and used for their natural gifts. They should be valued what they are, and for being a part of ocean ecosystems.
It is clear that DARPA needs to stop this program.
As the creators of the program, it has the ability to discontinue it and place its resources and abilities in more beneficial areas of technology.
It needs to understand that the repercussions of a program like this will affect more than just the military: