What if someone could buy all the genetic engineering tools and materials, for a few hundred dollars online, to develop a cure for a disease or start a plague? Science fiction, right? Nope. You can now order your gene hacking supplies at Odin.com to get started. New gene hacking tools, including the powerful CRISPR/Cas9, allow amateurs and professionals alike to dive into DNA with GPS-like accuracy and then remove, add and modify genes. For those who love acronyms, CRISPR stands for “Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats.”
While curing a disease or creating anthrax-like viruses is not that simple, with these new and evolving tools, the possibilities are there for far faster and affordable research, development and deployment of genetically based mutations and products. Products that could have a significant potential impact on our everyday lives.
First, Gene Hacking – Good News
Rapid development of altered-genetic materials, using this readily available CRISPR technology, could soon lead to major advances:
1> Drugs and therapies to cure cancer, heart disease, blindness and eventually more genetically complex diseases like diabetes and multiple sclerosis.
2> Organ transplants – make possible pig organ transplants by removing pig retroviruses making the transplants safer for humans.
3> Remove insect born diseases like malaria from mosquitoes or SARS from bats.
4> Create Super Plants – some are now being developed at Rutgers using CRISPR to resist mildew and other pathogens.
5> Edit human embryos to remove genetic dispositions to diseases like leukemia and breast cancer.
Second, Gene Hacking – Bad News
1> Terrorism – gene editing tools in the wrong hands open the possibility for genetically modified viruses to be developed and deployed. That may be why intelligence agencies have expressed concern that the “broad distribution, low cost and accelerated pace of development” of these genetic tools may lead to “deliberate or unintentional misuse that might further lead to far-reaching economic and national security implications.”
Further, these tools could be used to attack crops and livestock with either genetically modified chemicals or insects.
2> Hacking – now this may sound even crazier, but researchers at the University of Washington have shown that software edited into a genetic sequence can create a different kind of virus. It’s a virus that does not infect humans, but when run through a gene-sequencer for analysis, actually infects the computer of the analyzer and can take over that computer and its healthcare network – presumably for control by its malicious creator.
What’s The Cure?
Like all new technology from the trans-continental railroad to computers to the Internet, it brings great wonders and gifts to society along with opportunities for malice and abuse. Overtime, great societies have worked on multiple levels to amplify the good aspects and minimize the bad. The key word here being ‘Time.” Governments and institutions need time to understand and try to ‘get ahead’ of the opportunities and challenges of new scientific developments. The problem with DIY Gene Hacking, like recent advances in Artificial Intelligence, is that the developments and abuses are coming much faster than older technologies.
The conclusion is that we may need a Manhattan-like project to understand and cope with the changes this rapidly evolving world of genetic science offers . . . .before it’s too late.
Meanwhile, maybe I’ll order a CRISPR kit online for research purposes. Maybe I can reverse the aging gene for the sequel I’m writing to NOT SO DEAD.
For more articles and video, here are a few interesting links:
Gene Editing Spurs Hope for Transplanting Pig Organs Into Humans
Mail Order CRISPR Kits
The Gene Hackers
11 Crazy Gene Hacking Things
Biocoders Embed Malware in DNA
Cybercriminals and Gene Hacking
P.S. My new techno-thriller, NOT SO DEAD, is now available on Amazon. Read more about it. Better yet, buy a copy?
Find me on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and LinkedIn also
Oh, and please do join the Mailing List for news and future blog posts.