Bextine explains that the research teams involved in the project apply their expertise in molecular and synthetic biology in closed laboratories, greenhouses or other secured facilities, and he stresses that the programme observes several levels of biosecurity and biosafety at each of its levels. According to DARPA, the goal of Insect Allies is to “stably transform multiple mature crop plants in a complex, multi-species plant and insect community with enhanced trait(s) of agricultural interest” by mid-2021.

Crops to be modified while growing

Phase One of the programme, to be concluded in late 2018, is to result in the successful delivery of a genetically modified virus to an insect. Phase Two, scheduled for late 2018 to early 2020, would involve genetically adjusting the viruses, insects and plants so that gene delivery works in a monoculture. Phase Three would then last until mid-2021, and would concentrate on observing the project on a larger scale in complex crop environments.