Genetic Science and the Future of American War-Fighters

  • Sheena M. EaganEmail author
Part of the Military and Humanitarian Health Ethics book series (MHHE)


In 2017, the United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) budgeted 100-million-dollars to fund gene-editing technology. While much of the research in this field has focused on therapeutic innovation and disease prevention, the military is interested in how this technology can make better soldiers. Recent reports speculate that this technology could enable soldiers to run at super-human speeds, carry enormous weight, live off their fat stores, and go without sleep. While this enhancement would inevitably lead to increased survivability in war, there are significant and warranted ethical concerns. This paper will provide a brief overview of genetic enhancement technology focusing on the Department of Defense (DoD) priorities and interests in the field. The analysis will specifically concentrate on an under-discussed element concerning the ethical permissibility of genetic enhancement—its precarious position at the intersection of civilian and military spheres. Will civilians have access to the same types of genetic enhancement, or will it be limited to military use? Who owns the enhancements—the military or the individual service-member? If these enhancements are permanent, how will the service-member function in society after separation from the military?


  1. Azarow, K. 2003. Ethical use of tissue samples in genetic research. Military Medicine 168: 437–441.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Chang, A. 2009. Military experiment seeks to predict PTSD. U.S. News & world report, November 20.Google Scholar
  3. Committee on Opportunities in Biotechnology for Future Army Applications, Board on Army Science and Technology, National Research Council. 2001. Opportunities in biotechnology for future army applications. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.Google Scholar
  4. Connelly, M. 2012. Genetics of post-traumatic stress disorder: Review and recommendations for genome-wide association studies. Current psychiarty reports.Google Scholar
  5. DARPA. 2017. Building the safe genes toolkit, July 19. Retrieved from Defense Advanced Research Project Agency:
  6. Department of Defense. 2017. DoD instruction 5154.30. Armed Forces Medical Examiner System (AFMES) Operations, December 21. Washington, DC.Google Scholar
  7. Drew, T., and U. Mueller-Doblies. 2017. Dual use issues in research—A subject of increasing concern? Vaccine 35 (44): 5990–5994.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Eagan Chamberlin, S. 2012. Emasculated by trauma: A social history of post-traumatic stress disorder, stigma and masculinity. Journal of American Culture 35 (4): 358–365.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Evans, N., and J. Moreno. 2014. Yesterday’s war; tomorrow’s technology: Peer commentary on ‘ethical, legal, social and policy issues in the use of genomic technologies by the US military’. Journal of Law and the Biosciences 2 (1): 79–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Huntington, S. 2008. The soldier and the state: The theory and politics of civil-military relations. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Illing, S. 2018. Chasing Captain America: Why superhumands may not be that far away, April 27. (Vox Media) Retrieved July 2018, from Vox:
  12. JASON. 2010. The $100 genome: Implications for DOD. Washington, DC: The MITRE Corporation.Google Scholar
  13. Lázaro-Muñoz, G., and E. Juengst. 2015. Challenges for implementing a PTSD preventice genomic sequencing program in the U.S. Military. Case West Journal of International Law 47 (1): 87–113.Google Scholar
  14. McManus, J., A. McClinton, and M. Morton. 2002. Ethical issues in conduct of research in combat and disaster operations. American Journal of Disaster Medicine 4: 87–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. McManus, J., S. McClinton, A. De Lorenzo, and T. Baskin. 2005. Informed consent and ethical issues in military medical research. Academic Emergency Medicine: Official Journal of the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine 12: 1120–1126.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Mehlman, M., and T. Li. 2014. Ethical, legal, social, and policy issues in the use of genomic technology by the U.S. Military. Journal of Law and the Biosciences 1 (3): 244–280.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Miles, D. 2007. DNA registry unlocks key to fallen servicemembers’ identities, January 25. Retrieved from U.S. Army:
  18. Office of Research & Development. 2018. Million veteran program (MVP), July 3. Retrieved from U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs:
  19. Patrone, D., D. Resnik, and L. Chin. 2012. Biosecurity and the review and publication of dual-use research of concern. Biosecutiry and Bioterrorism: Biodefence Strategy, Practice, and Science 10 (3): 290–298.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Pence, C. 2014. Military genomic testing: Proportionality, expected benefits, and the connection between genotypes and phenotypes. Journal of Law and the Biosciences 2 (1): 85–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Resnik, D., D. Barner, and G. Dinse. 2011. Dual-use review policies of biomedical research journals. Biosecurity and Bioterrorism: Biodefense Strategy, Practice, and Science 9 (1): 49–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Selgelid, M. 2009. Governance of dual-use research: An ethical dilemma. Bulletin of World Health Organization 87 (9): 720–723.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Shay, J. 2010. Odysseus in America: Combat trauma and the trials of homecoming. New York: Scribner.Google Scholar
  24. The National Institute of Mental Health. 2011. Army STARRS New Soldier Study (NSS): The first days of service. Retrieved from
  25. VA. 2016. PTSD: National center for PTSD, October 3. Retrieved from U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs:
  26. Williams, H. 2016. Bio-hacking: Everything you need to know about DIY biology. Retrieved from io-Based World News:

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Bioethics and Interdisciplinary Studies, Brody School of MedicineEast Carolina UniversityGreenvilleUSA

Personalised recommendations