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Pentagon Ignores the Warnings of Splice and Jurassic Park in Breeding Artificial Life

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I was prepared for a robot revolution. Now I fear a different kind of man-made monster, one more akin to the Chimera seen on The Island of Dr. Moreau and in this year’s Sundance flick Splice. Why? Robots have fallen on hard times. While the military is scrapping plans for its own autonomous killing machines, guess what the Pentagon is up to? Trying to breed an army of synthetic organisms that can live forever.

In its 2011 budget, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has allocated $6 million for BioDesign, a project to create artificial life. The unclassified document doesn’t say how the new life-forms will be used, but I’m guessing they won’t be making biofuels or absorbing greenhouse gases. More likely, the agency is aiming for Moreau’s ungodly brand of “divine human.”

Here’s what we know: they want to develop “a robust understanding of the collective mechanisms that contribute to cell death,” so as to “enable a new generation of regenerative cells that could ultimately be programmed to live indefinitely.” This could lead to one badass super-soldier.

The lab monsters will be made by inserting alien DNA into another organism’s genome. No, wait: that’s how they do it in sci-fi horror flicks like Species and Doom. We don’t know what DNA they’re using. Whatever it is, it will be traceable and “tamperproof” (presumably so the creatures can’t be manipulated to aid the enemy). If you find yourself on the wrong end of this thing’s hit list, Wired‘s Danger Room notes, there is a “self-destruct” option, to be implemented “upon nefarious removal of organism.” In other words, think twice before you try to pull it off your face.

Should the creatures mutate, or try kill their creators or take over the world, there’s a genetically coded kill switch. Of course, there were kill switchs in Jurassic Park, too: the dinos were bred without the ability to produce the amino acid lysine (so they would die if the park staff stopped feeding it to them), and they were all female (so they couldn’t reproduce). But as their creator, John Hammond, learned, “Life will find a way.”

Our best hope is that DARPA will decide to do its testing on a remote island or an abandoned space station. That way, the only victims will be the few poor souls who stumble upon it.

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