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Biotech Bug Science

Synthetic Biology May Spawn Biohackers 320

Posted by michael
from the zergling dept.
nusratt writes "EE Times reports 'Design automation systems tailored to the task of genetic engineering . . . can lead to the accidental or deliberate creation of pathogenic biological components.' Design of molecular machines is analogous to doing system-on-chip work, and hackers 'will not need a detailed knowledge of biochemistry to effectively create complex biochemical machines.' A Harvard genetics professor says, 'Even if we don't have bioterrorists and teen-age biohackers, we will still create things that do not have the properties that we thought they would . . . Even if you are genetically resistant and recently immunized, you will have problems with artificial biological agents.' He also says that there are two big differences between this risk and nuclear weapons: (1) building weapons is harder; (2) synth-bio work is more accident-prone. Oh great, just great: script-kiddies with smallpox . . ."
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Synthetic Biology May Spawn Biohackers

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  • by macklin01 (760841) on Thursday July 08, 2004 @10:13AM (#9642617) Homepage
    On the one hand, that's the inherent risk with any technology as it becomes increasingly accessible and "user-friendly".

    On the other hand, are these systems going to be cheap enough that we have to worry about script kiddies? If computers still cost $5000+, I doubt script kiddies would be such a rampant problem on the net. -- Paul
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 08, 2004 @10:14AM (#9642633)
    Hackers or no hackers, the progress of science and the advance of the frontiers of knowledge cannot be stopped.

    Over a period of time, it is going to get progressively easier to develop synthetic biological agents. I would prefer that the good guys get their hand in before the baddies (terrorists, bio-script kiddies, bio-black hats...). And yeah, hope they also focus on how to contain fallouts from accidental mistakes, experiments gone wrong, bio-script kiddies etc.etc.
  • by Short Circuit (52384) <mikemol@gmail.com> on Thursday July 08, 2004 @10:16AM (#9642660) Homepage Journal
    That reminds of a software application I'd heard of a while back. Basically, you chose the options you wanted, and this application would create a computer virus out of pre-written parts to fit the bill.

    Antivirus software was particularly effective, though, as a whole new family of viruses had common components you could detect.

    I bet the body's immune system will respond in the same way. If you re-use the same formula for the virus shell, the same antibodies will react to a variety of viruses.
  • by DamonHD (794830) <d@hd.org> on Thursday July 08, 2004 @10:18AM (#9642683) Homepage
    Many years ago I did some work in a genetics lab and made some recombinants (variations on the E.coli pCNB plasmid FWIW), and accidentally swallowed a billion or so of one of them (but that's a different story B^>).

    The point was that it was slow, laborious work with lots of hardware support (agar, incubators, restriction enzymes, etc) needed and a danger of getting various sorts of stuff on yourself. And we're still (sadly) profoundly ignorant of what really makes bugs tick...

    So the first DNA-script-kiddie is still as far off as the nanotech grey-goo horror IMHO.

    Damon
  • If it was so easy... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by kabocox (199019) on Thursday July 08, 2004 @10:22AM (#9642754)
    If it was so much easier than building nuclear bombs, why haven't we gone alot father in that field than we have?

    I agree once you have a virus or some time of self spreading destructive agent, it is easier to spread than tradional bombs. Building tailored geneic machines will be like every other process. It won't be very profitable until some big break through makes it cheaper for certain apps. Then we'd carelessly use the tech for 5-10 years without any problems then one day we'd have an accident and the news folks would be all over it. There would be all sorts of safe guards so that nothing like that could happen again. Every six months or so their would be a new special report about how that tech could have been better managed and what not.
  • Prey (Score:5, Interesting)

    by techstar25 (556988) <techstar25@cf l . r r . c om> on Thursday July 08, 2004 @10:22AM (#9642759) Homepage Journal
    Reminds me of a book I just finished, Prey, by Micheal Crichton. I that book he brings up the issue of "hackers" releasing a biological virus created using nanotechnology that would behave like a computer virus, attacking people and self-replicating. If you think Microsoft is slow to release patches, imagine how long it would take the CDC to immunize everybody from a brand new man-made virus. Interesting stuff...good book, by the way. Better than Jurassic Park.
  • by james_in_denver (757233) <james_in_denver@@@yahoo...com> on Thursday July 08, 2004 @10:49AM (#9643062)
    The article states "Biological synthesis becomes fairly easy once the basic building blocks -- the oligonucleotides -- have been built, so the regulation of the whole process could be centered on licensing and tracking them."

    And this has worked soooo well in preventing virii in the computing world (can you say Microsoft?).

    The article goes on to say Tom Knight, who directs MIT's BioBrick wet lab in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. "There is an opportunity here because the oligonucleotides contain a lot of information which can be used to track and monitor what is being done with them."

    Well, that assumes of course, that the development of potentially new and nasty little buggers is under your control

    And finally

    "Even if we don't have bioterrorists and teen-age biohackers, we will still create things that do not have the properties that we thought they would," Church said.

    and will these "things" go on to further adapt and mutate on their own?....Hmmm, can you say Darwin?

  • by October_30th (531777) on Thursday July 08, 2004 @10:52AM (#9643096) Homepage Journal
    After all, if you make a billion particles and only 2% work, you can still infect your next host quite smartly.

    Couldn't this be countered by a similar "shotgun" inoculation consisting of billions of dead viruses each with a different structure? If only 2% of them would activate the immune system against the infecting HIV, you'd still get a fighting chance.

    Now I know it won't work because otherwise the pharma-giants would already be making money like crazy on it, but still I'd like to know why it won't work.

  • by Choco-man (256940) on Thursday July 08, 2004 @11:20AM (#9643478)
    I could weaponize anthrax for $25,000. The US gov't did a study a few years ago indicating that for less than the price of a new car and using off the shelf equipment, one could manufacture enough bio agent to do very significant damage, in a space the size of one's bedroom.

    The question isn't will it be cheap enough for everyone to have the ability to do it. It's will it be cheap enough for the crazies to do it, as well as what are the implications of doing it (by crazies or by well thought out researchers).

    You better believe that if the crazies could inflict this type of damage for $5000 they'd do it in a heartbeat.
  • Re:Prey (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Idarubicin (579475) <allsquiet@hotm a i l .com> on Thursday July 08, 2004 @01:11PM (#9644818) Journal
    Reminds me of a book I just finished, Prey, by Micheal Crichton. I that book he brings up the issue of "hackers" releasing a biological virus created using nanotechnology that would behave like a computer virus, attacking people and self-replicating.

    It's a clever concept, but man does Crichton's execution suck. His earlier work is vastly superior, both from a technical standpoint, and from the standpoint of quality of writing. Jurassic Park had a few plot holes, but he's been getting sloppier ever since. He's also abandoned any concern for scientific credibility.

    Prey demonstrates ignorance in roughly equal parts of the details of biology, physics, chemistry, and computer science.

    He's just banging out books as fast as he can in hope that another one gets bought by a movie studio.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 08, 2004 @03:33PM (#9646684)
    You could try "The Changeling Plague" by Syne Mitchell this novel is fast moving and really well written

If a 6600 used paper tape instead of core memory, it would use up tape at about 30 miles/second. -- Grishman, Assembly Language Programming

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