Current experiments focus on maize and tomatoes, and leafhoppers, whiteflies and aphids are among the insects used as disease vectors.

So far, the use of genetically modified organisms in farming has been restricted to farmers using commercial seeds that were genetically engineered in laboratories. A farmer opts for a seed type the plants of which are suited to survive in conditions that the farm is expected to face, such as drought or certain pests. Insect Allies centres on performing genetic engineering in the fields, giving farmers the opportunity to have the properties of their crops altered at any time, which would amount to a radical breakthrough in farming.

Warnings of biological warfare potential

However, scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology in Plön, Germany, and the Institut des Sciences de l’Evolution de Montpellier in France as well as legal scholars from Germany’s University of Freiburg have raised a number of concerns in a study published in the journal Science.