16 August 2009

Always the Doom You Don't Expect That Gets You

Synthetic biology involves the production of novel living organisms that are self-replicating and potentially uncontrollable if something goes wrong.....

QUEST on KQED Public Media.
A .... concern is the deliberate construction and release of a pathogen more virulent and transmissible than anything in nature. The perpetrator might be a malevolent individual with a knowledge of synthetic biology or a terrorist group seeking the ultimate bioweapon. Fuelling such fears is the rapidly growing availability of BioBricks and other “standard biological parts”, which enable even undergraduates to engineer their own microbes.

We probably have at least five years grace before synthetic biology has reached the point... FT
.... where it can destroy our current gullible faith in the safety of the commons. We may have five years. Sooner or later, resentful child-men and child-women will have the power to turn the life-giving air, water, food, and biosphere of the planet into agents of certain death -- or worse.

Synthetic biology will have to learn how to manipulate much more than DNA and genomes to become truly dangerous, of course. Without the epigenome and other components of life, the genome is an empty shell.
Epigenetics, a relatively new endeavor in science, refers to the control of the patterns of gene expression in cells, which gives rise to the necessary differences responsible for creating the complex and interacting tissues in the body.

Scientists globally have begun working on a Human Epigenome Project in a bid to compile detailed data documenting, within a person, the epigenetic changes in different types of cells and tissues, something that will complement the already-completed Human Genome Project. _Source
Links and video via Machines Like Us

We are accustomed to breathing from a common air supply, drinking from a common water supply, eating from a common food supply, and immersing ourselves in a common biosphere. In the not-so-distant future, humans may have to jettison this childlike faith in the safety of the bio-commons, and take steps to assure the safety of our own food, water, and air supplies. On a local -- even household -- level. Mass society could become a thing of the past, as multiple existential threats simultaneously sever the threads of trust that presently hold cultures and societies together.

Who will prevent this dissolution of trust and safety? Not the clueless clowns of the present US governmental reich. They are too busy destroying political enemies and grabbing as much political power as possible, to even consider attending to real world existential threats. The type of competence required to anticipate, interdict, and prevent such threats, is in very short supply -- and little valued in the current political / academic / media climate.

It is up to individuals and groups working outside the mainstream, to devise protective solutions to these somewhat probable threats. Fortunately, many genuinely useful preventative measures apply almost equally to a wide range of existential threats.

Labels: , , ,

Bookmark and Share


Blogger Unknown said...

This is more difficult than it looks. We have to ask ourselves: Why hasn't the ever-creative natural selection already produced such an organism? To see why look at a similar situation: there was concern a while back about the release into the environment of genetically modified fast-growing super-sized fish. (The value of such a fish in a commercial fish-farm is obvious.) And people commonly imagine this gorilla of a fish displacing existing fish. But those existing fish populations are the size they are and have their growth-rate because it adapts them to the environment. Superfish would likely starve.
Similarly, it is not advantageous to an infectious agent to kill it's host. The environment will inevitably start selecting for low-virulence strains. I don't know about constraints on infectiousness. Perhaps someone else could comment on that.
Of course, you could produce some really nasty stuff, but the production of something that could wipe out the human species has built-in limits.

Sunday, 16 August, 2009  
Blogger al fin said...

Right, I agree. The technology of bio bricks is not advanced enough for high school biology students to create a plague that will kill everyone on Earth.

On the other hand, rapid advances in genomics, proteomics, epigenomics, plus a better understanding of virulence and the dynamics of infectious spread -- will empower persons who can put the whole jigsaw puzzle together, to craft a plague of their choice.

Understand that a plague only needs to take out a certain portion of a society to throw it back to the stone age. Most of the third world is just a stone's throw from the stone age anyway. The developed world is not so much farther advanced as it might imagine.

It has always been easier to destroy than to create.

Synthetic biology holds the promise of getting humans out of their growing energy conundrum of dependence on dirty and expensive fossil fuels. Plus a lot of other marvelous and amazing creative uses.

We are in a race against the less savoury aspects of our nature.

Monday, 17 August, 2009  

Post a Comment

“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” _George Orwell

<< Home

Newer Posts Older Posts