[Tweeters] Fwd: New DNA Sensing RADAR Technology Could Revolutionize The War On Terror and Bird Watching - Yahoo! News

Josh Adams xjoshx at gmail.com
Mon Apr 1 05:09:28 PDT 2013


I just saw this article pop up on my news feed. Incredible to say the least!!!

Josh Adams
Lynnwood, WA

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: <mailbot at yahoo.com>
Date: Mon, Apr 1, 2013 at 5:08 AM
Subject: New DNA Sensing RADAR Technology Could Revolutionize The War
On Terror and Bird Watching
To: xjoshx at gmail.com

“Sparrows, lots of sparrows.” The words are spoken by David Iconia, a
government contractor for the NSA
who is staring down at a laptop with a screen full of color coded
names, not dissimilar to the screen an
aircraft controller would spend their day looking at. David is on the
forefront of a until recently secret
government project with the goal of protecting highly vulnerable
targets from known terror suspects, but
today his job has brought him to an unnamed tract of government land
on the outskirts of Washington, DC
looking for birds.

The project started ten years ago, when NSA researchers discovered
that, using a series of microbursts of
high frequency radiation in specific series, they could detect certain
patterns in the deoxyribonucleic
acid that exists in all living organisms. The acid, better known as
DNA, contains the genetic instructions
that exist in all living organisms and the technology could,
researchers theorized, be used to
differentiate and detect specific individuals remotely. Although not
technically that similar to RADAR,
the technology in shorthand was referred to as DNA RADAR or DRADAR and
the name stuck. In a country still
reeling from the September 11th terror attacks, it didn’t take a lot
of imagination to think of uses this
could have to safeguard the country, and the Bush administration
quickly funneled almost $30 billion
dollars into the program.

Over the last decade researchers worked tirelessly to get the
technology accurate enough to recognize
specific human beings in a large crowd of people, but the logistics
involved in retrieving hundreds of DNA
samples from volunteers with top secret clearances to train the
machine and then assemble said volunteers
for testing proved to be daunting.

That’s where the birds come in. Over the past two centuries, museums
have amassed incredible quantities of
mounted specimens (known as “skins”) in their collections. This made
collecting DNA samples for the most
common species in a given test area trivial. Once the samples were
entered, scientists were able to take
their DRADAR systems, now portable enough to fit in the back of a
small SUV, into the field to test their
effectiveness. Initially they could only detect the differences
between individuals with large
differences, such as ducks, sparrows and crows. “We had to do a lot of
fine tuning, which really helped us
begin to pinpoint which individuals came from which species, but
eventually we realized that nobody on the
team knew enough about birds to ensure that what the screens were
telling us was correct.”

That’s where Richard Grousman came in. Richard has been a bird watcher
for almost 30 years and currently
works for Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology. He spent 15 years
as an NSA researcher before moving
into bird research which gave him the necessary background in
classified research to join the team. “When
I showed up they didn’t know a Warbler from a Kinglet, much less a
Swamp Sparrow from a Song Sparrow,”
Richard laughs. “They could detect the birds, but they didn’t know if
what they were detecting was
correct. So I get paid by the government to bird.”

David looks through the jumble of text on the rough map of the terrain
in front of us. In a sea of blue
there’s one lone red icon moving slowly. That’s Richard, roughly 50
yards away from us, invisible in the
thick brush. David zooms in on the spot and clicks on a blue icon.
“Song sparrow, about 5 yards north of
you,” he radios. “Hit,” comes the reply back and a nearby colleague
types the result into a database. “It
took a long, long time to get the sparrows.” The radio rings out
again, “I have a small flock of birds
moving from northwest to southeast about 15 yards in front of me.”
David zooms frantically to find what
the bird watcher is reporting. “I see a Carolina Chickadee, and
White-Breasted Nuthatch and also”, he
trails off. “Hit and hit, but there’s one more species with them.”
David looks frustrated. “I know it’s a
woodpecker, Downy or Hairy, but it can’t tell which one.” He clicks a
few keys and the system seems to
pause for a minute before the text goes bold. “Hairy Woodpecker,” he
radios. After a minute the reply
comes back, “hit.”

If they can get the technology sensitive enough to detect not only
humans, but specific humans, it could
be the biggest military breakthrough since radar was originally
perfected during World War 2. “The
Pentagon wants this bad. Imagine an army of drones flying at 40,000
feet above the Middle East, searching
for the DNA of known terror suspects. If we’d had this before we would
have taken out Bin Laden ten years
earlier.” The DRADAR unit can already detect a handful of the
researchers in the field tests, but the
difference between detecting a species and an individual of that
species is very significant. “The
resolution just isn’t there yet. We can almost do it with individual
birds, but humans have proven to be a
lot harder,” says Iconia. “I think we’ll get there, it’s just going to
take some more effort,” he suggests.

In the meantime, they continue to test on birds. “It’s a birder’s
dream come true,” declares Grousman. “We
took it to the beach last fall during shorebird migration. Shorebirds
are very tough to identify for even
seasoned birders, but the DRADAR had no issues. There were about
15,000 birds out in the tide flats and we
could identify almost every one. As a birder it drove me nuts. There
were several rare birds, a Little
Stint and a Ruff,” continues the bird watcher. “Those are birds from
Europe that end up here on accident
only every few years. I couldn’t tell anyone about them, or even that
I was there. It drove me nuts!” he
says with a laugh.

With the unprecedented amount of research and data being generated on
bird DNA, the program may have a
long-lasting effect on ornithology. “We’ve never had these resources
before, it’s been really exciting,”
says Grousman. “They were really confused why all these unknown birds
they were finding turned out to be
simply common Crows. It turned out that there was a lot of significant
differences in Crows genetically
that nobody had noticed until now. Everyone just assumed that in most
parts of North America one Crow was
the same as the others, but that’s not the case. We have three
different subspecies where we are now that
nobody knew existed until now. They don’t interbreed at all, but
because they look the same with the human
eye everyone just assumed they were the same.” Grousman is working on
a research paper to present to the
American Ornithologists Union, the governing body of North American
bird taxonomy, that, if accepted,
could balloon the number of recognized Crow Species in the United
States from the current 3 up to as many
as 27. “Bird watchers in the Northwest have been trying to figure out
if they have one crow species or two
for over a century, but when we did field tests in the area last year
I found four just in one small area.
Unfortunately you need one of our devices to tell the difference.”

Just when, or if, the devices will every reach the point of consumers
is still up in the air, but the
researchers think it could happen in the next decade. “We could shrink
it down to a size that would fit in
your hands right now, it’d just be pricey,” say Grousman. “I don’t
know when birders will be able to buy
one, but I’ll be the first in line.”

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