Friday, April 22, 2005

Another Nightmare Scenario: Garage Bioengineers

Futurepundit ponders another of the possibilities that keep me up at night: What happens when anyone and everyone can do genetic engineering?
The DNA-based biological organism nightmare scenario that attracts the most attention is the release of genetically engineered killer viruses or bacteria that could wipe out much or all of the human race. I grant that threat is plausible and the attention that threat receives is understandable. However, in the future we will face a more general biological threat that has received far less attention: the genetic engineering of organisms that either through infection or environmental competition wipe out or greatly decrease the size of other species.

....Genetic engineering will inevitably become accessible to low skilled hobbyists working with small budgets. That is going to create enormous potential for mischief and worse. Think Rottweilers bred for ferocity are a threat at the local park? Wait till homies decide to compete to genetically engineer dogs that are the most dangerous in the neighborhood....

You see the problem here? People are going to take many existing species and modify their DNA for fun. This will be easy to do. One doesn't need to be a mechanical or electrical engineer to modify and enhance a car in all sorts of ways. Well, the same will be true of all the species of biological life.

And unlike many of his commenters -- who seem to think "religious fanatics" are the only ones to worry about -- Futurepundit understands what a wide range of motives people would have to do these things:
Why will people release their own genetically engineered species into the wild? For kicks. For fame. Out of anger. To see if it can be done. To immortalize themselves by having their own species live all over the world. To remake some part of physical geography in their image. Vanity, pride, a desire to be noticed, a desire to strike out at the world, all the normal human failings will be at work.

Anyone see reasons why this won't happen? Strikes me as inevitable.

Me too... me too.

4 Comments:

Blogger William Luse said...

Well, well, well. Welcome back, my friend.

7:42 PM  
Anonymous Scott Cunning said...

Reading those last two paragraphs, the "why" part, it occurs to me that there is a dangerous potential parallel to computing technology. Untold thousands tinker away with off-the-shelf technology, trying to hack their way into fame and fortune or create the killer computer virus that will grant them immortality by bringing the whole system down. As biology and medicine advance, I have to wonder if the next generation of irresponsible living-in-their-parents-basement technitions won't do the same with genetics.

11:44 PM  
Blogger Bernhardt Varenius said...

Yes, exactly... and what some of the dissenting commenters on the site don't seem to understand is that the "tinkerers" don't have to be experts on genetics by any means to cause havoc. Some were saying it won't be a problem because few would have the in-depth knowledge to make robust organisms, or ones that do exactly what they have in mind. My response is that it doesn't matter -- someone just fooling around could cause plenty of harm, just as "script kiddies" can wreck computers despite limited programming abilities.

1:55 PM  
Blogger Azhar Hussein said...

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8:00 AM  

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