Do you talk to your plants? You may want to watch what you say to them. The US Department of Defense has a new program whose purpose is to genetically modify plants to create undercover ground cover for spying on the enemy … and these days it seems like we’re ALL the enemy. Should you start pruning suspicious shrubbery down to the roots? Checking the cornfield for ears with ears?
“Plant sensors developed under the program will sense specific stimuli and report these signals with a remotely recognized phenotype detectable by existing hardware platforms.”
DARPA’s (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) new TIA (tree intelligence agency) is called the Advanced Plant Technologies program and its purported goal is to use nature’s own (with a few genetic tweaks) to watch for and report any environmental anomalies that might signal a chemical attack. That sounds like a good plan, doesn’t it?
“The program aims to control and direct plant physiology to detect chemical, biological, radiological, and/or nuclear threats, as well as electromagnetic signals.”
Electromagnetic signals? That’s where the plant program starts to sound a little sinister. Plants using their roots to listen in on buried communications cables and “report these signals” to existing hardware platforms?
The good news is, the announcement by DARPA’s Biological Technologies Office (BTO) for the Advanced Plant Technologies program was actually a call for potential partners to meet for a Proposers Day event on December 12 (also available via webcast). The bad news is, this either means the government doesn’t have the internal capabilities to do this itself or the program is already in place and this is a distraction to lull enemies into complacency.
Plants are definitely the carnations in the coal mine when it comes to environmental problems. It would be helpful to know immediately when they begin to sense atmospheric contaminations, unusual pests, illegal pesticides, nuclear fallout or low-level seismic or weaponry pulses. However, it’s an easy step to the next furrow to add a few more modified genes to other unusual smells, activities and those pesky electromagnetic signals. And, if plants in a field can perform these functions and relay data to a computer, it’s not much of a stretch to imagine office or house plants doing the same thing.
After the Advanced Plant Technologies event, DARPA says will accept proposals and select partners to begin tests in secure labs and greenhouses, says Blake Bextine, the DARPA Program Manager for APT.
"Advanced Plant Technologies is a synthetic biology program at heart."
That doesn’t sound too bad.
"As with DARPA's other work in that space, our goal is to develop an efficient, iterative system for designing, building, and testing models so that we end up with a readily adaptable platform capability that can be applied to a wide range of scenarios."
A wide range of scenarios? Those are words to worry about.