Is the Pentagon Planning to Inject Us With Super-Human Invincibility Juice?

| Fri Dec. 14, 2012 7:13 AM EST

Gentlemen, please start your military-Obamacare forced-vaccination conspiracy engines.

The mystical Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is soliciting proposals from really smart people "for the development of nucleic acid platforms capable of in vivo host production of a transient immune prophylaxis for adults." Put simply, it appears the Defense Department's brain trust wants an injectable form of blood plasma "that is universal, safe, adaptable, and scalable to protect the US population." It would be capable of morphing inside the human body to protect soldiers and civilians alike from...from what, exactly? "[E]merging or uncharacterized threats." It's kind of like Star Wars for your immune system.

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The proposal is part of DARPA's Autonomous Diagnostics to Enable Prevention (ADEPT) program, whose previous ideas included a plan to let soldiers diagnose their own health in the field by placing a single hair or a drop of semen on a kind of portable smart card. The current plan, however, goes beyond diagnosis, to what the agency calls Therapeutics: Prophylactic Options to Environmental and Contagious Threats (PROTECT), by proposing passive immunization"passive" because it introduces special antibodies into the recipient that are meant to combat a specific biological threat. (They're different from active immunizations, which stimulate your immune cells to produce antibodies in perpetuity—the sort of protection that one gets in, say, a smallpox vaccine.) 

Such protection is called "transient" because it lasts only as long as the outside antibodies persist in the recipient's body. Babies, for example, are born with passive immunization against measles, mumps, and rubella, thanks to antibodies their mothers pass along to them in utero. But those antibodies fade after a year or so, which is when doctors recommend MMR vaccinations. In the past, travelers were often given a shot of gamma globulin (a mixture of antibodies to all sorts of things) to bolster their immune systems against hepatitis—that's transient, too.

Here's another example of a passive immunization in action:

Passive immunization is useful against a variety of diseases for which a cure is either unknown, hard to procure, or slow to work. For example, the proposal states (PDF):

[E]ven with current access to anti-malarial drugs, more days were lost among U.S. soldiers to malaria in endemic regions than to bullets throughout the entire 20th century. Another concern is the approximately 30 percent of newly deployed military personnel that encounter severe gastroenteritis or dysentery (traveler’s diarrhea) within a few weeks of arrival at post.

If the technology works out, it could "confer protection to a healthy adult for a period of time, suitable to a military mission requirement or in a public health setting," whether for malaria and dysentery and other "diseases of high military priority"—but, as the solicitation states, "development of any transient immunity system targeting infectious diseases or toxins will be considered."

DNA- and RNA-based injections to cure whatever? Steel yourself for some hardcore conspiracy theories. There's already a robust fear of proven vaccines among the paranoid—both inside the military and out of it. Besides the infamous alleged autism-vaccine links, serious tinfoil hatters charge that inoculations are a government plot to control our behavior and monitor our movements.

Imagine the suspicions that might arise from a bunch of military-engineered temporary vaccines for a panoply of maladies, especially after the groundless allegations that the Affordable Care Act "will lead to mandatory vaccinations for everyone." ("Over my dead body," one Paulie writes about supposedly forced HPV vaccinations.)

Government black-ops fantasies aside, Mother Jones has reached out to some virologists and immunologists to dig a little deeper into DARPA's aspirations. More to come.

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