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Biotech Medicine Science

How Many Bits Does It Take To Kill You? 300

Posted by timothy
from the two-bits-buys-a-razor-blade dept.
pegr writes "Andrew 'bunnie' Huang, Reverse Engineer, XBox hacker, and generally smart guy, muses over the H1N1/swine flu virus as only a reverse engineer can: 'I now know how to modify the virus sequence to probably make it more deadly.' Not that he would, of course. bunnie has consistently made the esoteric available to us mere mortals, and his overview of the H1N1 virus is a fascinating read from a unique perspective." (Seen today also at the top of Schneier on Security.)
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How Many Bits Does It Take To Kill You?

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  • by 7-Vodka (195504) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @03:42PM (#29277977) Journal
    Making a virus more 'deadly' is usually not very good for the virus. If it's host dies, so does it's habitat. Not to mention the host can no longer really spread it.

    The Epstein-Barr virus [wikipedia.org], now there is a successful virus.

  • by binkzz (779594) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @03:43PM (#29277993) Journal
    It can be deadly and still be successful, just so long as it's not very fast (e.g. HIV).
  • by itsybitsy (149808) * on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @03:48PM (#29278031)

    How many bits does it take to kill a human? Bits of what is the real question?

    Bits of information? Bits of bullets? Bits of concrete? Bits of glass? Bits of a virus?

    They can all get the job done given the right, er wrong, context.

    3.2KiB of data with the flu eh?

    How about three bytes, 24 bits, uttered from the mouth of Bush? "War"! That killed a whole bunch of people with a lot less information. Ok, sure there was lots of supporting info.

    Many people have died from a lot fewer bits than the flu needs.

  • Re:fascinating! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdotNO@SPAMhackish.org> on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @03:58PM (#29278147)

    Yeah, I probably should've been nicer. =] The Slashdot summary is actually more objectionable than the article is: as you point out, the metaphors in the article are quite well done. If you don't view it as "l33t XBox hacker discovers how to haxx0r viruses", but instead as "engaging tech writer uses computer terminology to explain how viruses work", it's much better.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @04:05PM (#29278227)

    The second-most successful virus was the one that struck the Roman Empire circa 600 A.D. and wiped-out about a third of the population.

    The most-successful virus struck Europe in the mid-1200s, killed 40% of the people

    Maybe. But where are they now?

  • by Lord Ender (156273) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @04:08PM (#29278249) Homepage

    That's not how it works. Viruses don't all-of-a-sudden start to mutate when they "need" to. They mutate all the time. If a virus could "jump ship" to another species, it is most likely to do that when its first host species is common, not when that species is going extinct.

    Your post is an example of a bad analogy substituting for intelligence. That's a common mistake. It's sort of like when your car won't start...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @04:13PM (#29278311)

    Although for many unwashed masses your ramblings look quasi-brilliant, your analysis has WAY too many holes. Each triplet is translated into ONE of TWENTY amino acids. You know what? Some triplets are translated to the SAME amino acids. Your analysis is bunk. Learn your biology.

  • by Otto (17870) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @04:14PM (#29278317) Homepage Journal

    Depends on how you define "deadly", of course. Making it more easily transmitted would be better for the virus, for example.

  • by PCM2 (4486) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @04:27PM (#29278463) Homepage

    Making a virus more 'deadly' is usually not very good for the virus. If it's host dies, so does it's habitat. Not to mention the host can no longer really spread it.

    Be careful with that kind of thinking, because it's not strictly true. There's an oft-repeated saying that all diseases will naturally become less deadly over time because it doesn't pay to kill your host -- but in some cases it does pay.

    Consider something like cholera. Cholera gives you horrific diarrhea and vomiting, and the resulting dehydration can kill you pretty quickly, especially if you're very young or otherwise infirm. Going by the above-stated theory, that would normally be bad -- except that cholera exists in all your excretions, and other people can catch it from coming into close contact with those excretions. What's more, the normal route of infection is via contaminated water supply -- so if your excretions can make it back to the water supply, more's the better for cholera. Who cares if you drop dead?

    Similarly, malaria doesn't need you up and walking around to infect people. You can be lying on your deathbed and a mosquito can still fly in through the window, bite you, and then fly off and bite someone else. That's why, though malaria has been known since the dawn of human history, it never seems to become less of a health threat to humans. There's simply no evolutionary pressure in that direction.

    True, neither cholera or malaria is caused by a virus. But I just wanted to point out that the "evolution favors keeping your host alive" theory is rather too simplistic for the bigger picture of human disease.

     

  • by Jeff Carr (684298) <slashdot.com@nOSPam.jeffcarr.info> on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @04:33PM (#29278565) Homepage
    32 bytes, 256 bits..

    Don't you think she looks tired?
  • Re:fascinating! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdotNO@SPAMhackish.org> on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @04:41PM (#29278673)

    Yeah, it's true that there's some pretty lame stuff on the bioinformatics side too--- especially the early stuff has a feel of "hey guys what is computer", with books like Beginning Perl for Biologists [oreilly.com].

  • by Volante3192 (953645) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @04:44PM (#29278707)

    Umm, I'm confused by this ranting.

    FTFA: As you can see, we have 'GAA' coding for 'E' (Glutamic acid). To modify this genome to be more deadly, we simply need to replace 'GAA' with one of the codes for Lysine ('K'), which is either of 'AAA' or 'AAG'.

    Article author points out that TWO triplets both translate into Lysine. OP's ability to RTFA is bunk. Learn to not troll.

  • by Estanislao Martínez (203477) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @05:00PM (#29278851) Homepage

    The 26,000-some bit virus only exists in the context of a host that contains considerably more DNA information than that. To use the awful computer analogies, it's like running a 26K program on a 300MB interpreter system; the small program just calls some combination of really complex, pre-built functions that shouldn't be called in that combination.

    And keep in mind that the 300MB interpreter is meaningless without the context in which it executes: some physical machine.

  • by maxwell demon (590494) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @05:57PM (#29279409) Journal

    Although for many unwashed masses your ramblings look quasi-brilliant, your analysis has WAY too many holes. Each triplet is translated into ONE of TWENTY amino acids. You know what? Some triplets are translated to the SAME amino acids. Your analysis is bunk. Learn your biology.

    Yes, each triplet is translated into one amino acid (OK, there are a few which are translated into none). There's no single triplet which is translated into two or more amino acids. The fact that several triplets are translated into the same amino acid doesn't change that (even if you shout). Learn your logic.

  • How any bits ? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Conditioner (1405031) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @06:08PM (#29279501)
    How many bits make up cyanide ? it like 4 or 5 molecules, and has a lovely almond smell to it. or so iv heard.
  • by danudwary (201586) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @06:30PM (#29279715)

    While that's true, it's kind of stupid. You might as well say guns don't kill people, they shoot bullets that break important organs. Tuberculosis doesn't kill you, the lack of functioning lungs did. It wasn't that brain cancer that got you, it was the lack of a a cerebellum. Come on.

  • by mlush (620447) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @04:06AM (#29282759)

    Given that the first infects were recognized in 1984, I think the "selective pressure" is not a evolutionary one, as there just have not been enough generations. You have to factor in that the number of infected grew significantly, so the decrease of faster-killing virus variants may just stem from the fact that their hosts died earlier decreasing their share whereas that didn't happened for slower-killing virus. That'd be without passing on to a newer generation of virii that has been selected due to fitting better (which will occur later, I'm sure).

    Then on the other hand, I'm no biologist/physician :-)

    (Very roughly) you only need about 10 generations so see a significant evolutionary change and HIV mutates at a frightening rate, (one of the reasons that it is so hard to treat is that if you treat a patent with a HIV drug there is always one virus in the patent with a protective mutation). Anyway getting back to the point its not just death that exerts a selective pressure its how ill it makes the patent. If your bed ridden with pneumonia your not out on the pull spreading viruses.

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