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Science News Technology

'Rogue Scientists' Could Exploit Gene Editing Technology, Experts Warn (theguardian.com) 213

A senior geneticist and a bioethicist warned on Friday that they fear "rogue scientists" operating outside the bounds of law, and agreed with a US intelligence chief's assertion this week that gene editing technology could have huge, and potentially dangerous, consequences. Recent advances in genetics allow scientists to edit DNA quickly and accurately, making research into diseases, such as cystic fibrosis and cancer, easier than ever before. But researchers increasingly caution that they have to work with extreme care, for fear that gene editing could be deployed as bioterrorism or, in a more likely scenario, result in an accident that could make humans more susceptible to disease rather than less.
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'Rogue Scientists' Could Exploit Gene Editing Technology, Experts Warn

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  • Zombies (Score:5, Funny)

    by NotInHere ( 3654617 ) on Saturday February 13, 2016 @10:03PM (#51503699)

    result in an accident that could make humans more susceptible to disease rather than less.

    Zombies? Where is my shotgun when I need it?

    • Special designed soldiers, less initiative and stronger. And no concerns among the soldiers about legality of their actions.

    • Zombies? Where is my shotgun when I need it?

      If you don't know, then guess what? You're going to be playing the part of "Zombie" during the apocalypse. You won't need a shotgun, just tasty, tasty brains.

      • +1 funny.

        Plus, what's up with last night's leftovers leading the front page?

        Were we bought out again, this time by the owner of Chick-fil-A?

  • These scientists did awful things with DNA

  • Whenever did ethics get in the way of doing stuff, mad-scientist style?

    It seems reasonable to assume that those with money and goals have been able to proceed down paths that are ethically and lawfully beyond the pale.

  • vague handwaving (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 13, 2016 @10:24PM (#51503793)

    “The infectious agent responsible for bubonic plague, if altered through Crispr,” he said, “could potentially be used as a WMD. Currently, we have effective treatment against it. But if it were altered, it could potentially become resistant to these treatments and thus be deadly.”

    There are plenty of infectious agents that we don't have treatments against, so why would anybody go through the trouble of modifying bubonic plague, instead of just picking one of those? Why bubonic plague, an organism that is transmitted by fleas? And why haven't terrorists used biological weapons successfully before if there is such a risk from them?

    Furthermore, for the kinds of changes a terrorist would want to make to bacteria or viruses, they wouldn't need CRISPR; CRISPR is mostly useful for targeted modifications in higher organisms.

    The whole thing is just homeland security and bioethicists trying to get attention and funding; it's bullshit.

    • Re:vague handwaving (Score:4, Interesting)

      by JoeMerchant ( 803320 ) on Saturday February 13, 2016 @11:37PM (#51504105)

      There are plenty of infectious agents that we don't have treatments against, so why would anybody go through the trouble of modifying bubonic plague, instead of just picking one of those? Why bubonic plague, an organism that is transmitted by fleas?

      A. because it sounds scary, most people know something about the Black Death.

      B. because of plausible deniability, it is widespread in the environment and might mutate on its own.

      C. because of limited scope and speed of spread (flea vector), what's the point in killing _everyone_ when you can just kill mostly your enemies?

      And why haven't terrorists used biological weapons successfully before if there is such a risk from them?

      Are you sure they haven't?

      • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 14, 2016 @01:33AM (#51504559)

        And why haven't terrorists used biological weapons successfully before if there is such a risk from them?

        Biological weapons have a number of serious drawbacks that make them unattractive as weapons to terrorists:

        1. Production of large enough quantities for an attack requires laboratory and light industrial type equipment with consumables and all of the support and logistics necessary to procure and operate said equipment. Countries where terrorism is a problem are generally poverty stricken, have little or no functioning government or infrastructure and are short on just about everything, including fuel and food. This makes biological weapons relatively expensive in the bang vs buck department and if Bin Laden's captured papers are anything to go by, terrorists tend to be cheapskates. The news reports of the papers captured during the Bin Laden raid, for example, mentioned arguments over the cost of replacement car parts for a cell operating in Yemen, among other things.

        2. Unlike chemicals or shrapnel, effective dispersal of a biological agent that doesn't also destroy the agent itself in the process requires some fairly sophisticated engineering. Terrorists working in primitive conditions with improvised explosive devices are probably not up to the task. Moreover, the use cases for these dispersal systems are either small scale or difficult and expensive and as we know, terrorists are a notoriously cheap bunch.

        3. Without sophisticated storage and complex preservation techniques, the shelf life of bioweapons is short which makes them a use them or lose them proposition for terrorists.

        4. Finally, unless a large number of people are infected, which is unlikely in a small scale terrorist attack, the damage will be very limited at best. This is especially true if the attack occurs in a first world nation where medical care is both sophisticated and abundant. Astute readers will note that aid workers infected in Africa with the Ebola virus recovered fully after being flown here to the United States and treated successfully.

        In conclusion, bioweapons are unlikely to be a serious problem even if the terrorists have the backing of a nation state. The economics of the attack are simply too poor and no nation would want to face the retribution that would surely follow when the United States inevitably discovered who was responsible. For example, notice how quickly the Syrian government surrendered their chemical weapons stockpiles when they thought that the United States would become directly involved in their civil war if they refused. The United States and allied nations ought to be focusing instead on more plausible methods of terrorist attack and how to prevent them instead of worrying about things that only happen in Tom Clancy novels or Hollywood movie plots.

      • Are you sure they haven't?

        Well we know it's been tried, but the attacks weren't successful. It's interesting to note that the one [wikipedia.org] terrorist organisation that had the wherewithal to produce both biological and chemical agents, gave up on their biological vector since they couldn't get it to work, and went the chemical route instead. (And if they had only tried to come up with a delivery system worth the name, the number of deaths could easily surpassed 9/11. Why they didn't, I haven't seen any info on.)

        So, if you have enough biologic

        • So, if you have enough biological skills to make bioweapons, chemicals are an easier, and more certain route, at present that is.

          It is literally only a matter of time before a disgruntled nerd sitting at home with his bioreactor can print up something hazardous. The tech will get there sooner or later. Are we going to build a better society that takes care of people before we get there, or are we just going to go ahead and create the guy who will do that?

          • by lars_stefan_axelsson ( 236283 ) on Sunday February 14, 2016 @01:43PM (#51506341) Homepage

            Well, that's a general trend. Fewer people can create more mayhem with less resources now than before. (Maybe that is the Fermi paradox...)

            Now, I'm not sure it's all that easy to "print up something harmful" just yet. And my point was rather, that if you have a bio-reactor that can print up viruses left, right and centre, then you could have a chemical reactor to make you sarin gas, at half the price.

            However, even though the capabilities for mayhem are legio, we don't see that much mayhem, so there are other mechanisms at play as well. If twenty years in the security field has taught me anything, it's that the overwhelming majority are nice people, and not the immoral bastards that modern "economic theory" claim we all are.

            But, when, how and if we reach a tipping point, that is both a difficult and of course an important question. Lots of sci-fi speculating on that very subject (I'm partial to Rainbow's End, by V. Vinge), but one also has to remember that the devil is in the details, so it's not a simple linear extrapolation.

            I'm all for making society a better place, and of course bad surroundings [abc.net.au] make more bad people. So we could at least start by trying to not make things worse... If we reach the point where all it takes is a single loon however, all bets are of course off. And that's the scary part.

      • B. because of plausible deniability, it is widespread in the environment and might mutate on its own.

        Most people causing mass death or terror don't have plausible deniability high on their list.
        Quite the opposite actually, they pretty much fall over themselves taking credit for acts of terror. That's kind of the point of such a display of power.

        • B. because of plausible deniability, it is widespread in the environment and might mutate on its own.

          Most people causing mass death or terror don't have plausible deniability high on their list.
          Quite the opposite actually, they pretty much fall over themselves taking credit for acts of terror. That's kind of the point of such a display of power.

          Thus my last point: Are you sure this hasn't happened already? Maybe not as an open act of terror, but as state sponsored research, or covert ops?

      • by HiThere ( 15173 )

        Actually, we can be quite sure that they have, as long as you don't refuse to allow anything before 1800. I don't know how effective it was but there is decent evidence that blankets that smallpox victims had slept in were collected and sold to the Indians in the US at various times. And I suspect that measles was used the same way more frequently...but with less record, because measles wasn't seen as dangerous to the people handling the materials.

        I think there are also some records from the middle ages,

    • > so why would anybody go through the trouble of modifying bubonic plague, instead of just picking one of those?

      To make it "pneumonic", or airborne and spreadable by coughing for those without The CDC apparently has some fascinating war game style test scenarios of exactly that sort of change in a known, highly lethal pathogen. They;re quite frightening: once the infection rate progresses beyond certain quite low levels, there is _no way_ to contain the diseases effectively in today's modern, highly mo

    • by robi5 ( 1261542 )

      > And why haven't terrorists used biological weapons successfully before if there is such a risk from them?

      "And why haven't terrorists used large passenger planes successfully for killing thousands by collapsing multibillion dollar landmarks such as the Twin Towers or the Pentagon, if there's such a risk from them?"
      -- everyone, till 9/10/2001

      The difference is, biological can be far more devastating. Think about what 9/11 did to society, multiply the effect by 1000 and it's the end o

      • > And why haven't terrorists used biological weapons successfully before if there is such a risk from them?

        "And why haven't terrorists used large passenger planes successfully for killing thousands by collapsing multibillion dollar landmarks such as the Twin Towers or the Pentagon, if there's such a risk from them?"

        Actually a number of people were considering exactly those scenarios, including Tom Clancy and the people who warned Bush (who ignored the warnings).

    • This stuff is getting more sophisticated. I've been involved with microfluidics development and have at least a vague idea of the speed at which the field advances. It won't take more than two decades before any old engineer (not scientist) will be able to design bacteria. That includes the batshit crazy Islamist in Saudi Arabia or Turkey.

    • If I were a mad scientist looking to kill as many people as possible, I'd got for TB. It's highly contagious, fatal, and runs slow enough to spread easily - you don't want something like ebola that kills people before they can spread it. TB is already a serious disease, all you'd need to do is splice in every known gene for antibiotic resistance and soup it up a little.

    • Why bubonic plague, an organism that is transmitted by fleas?

      Why even bother with the bubonic plague? Just genetic engineer some fleas to grow to the size of a German Shepard. They would then bite and suck dry the human victim of blood.

      No need to transfer a disease.

    • "And why haven't terrorists used biological weapons successfully before if there is such a risk from them?"

      The same reason nobody 3d printed firearms for a long time. There are a certain number of people out there that will be inclined to behaviour like that, and at some point it moves past early adoptors. When these intersect, we start to see things being used.

      Drones have existed for a while, but the technology has gotten cheaper and now there are large numbers of them in civilian hands. Inevitably, thi

  • Why did they save that?

    • Why did they save that?

      So it could eventually be put in the body of a Great White Shark.

    • They saved Hitler's cock, They hid it under a rock.
      I discovered it, last night. I couldn't even, believe my eyes.

      If Hitler's cock could start to talk, it would say: To kill today.
      If Hitler's cock could choose it's mate, it would ask, for Sharon Tate!

      They saved Hitler's cock. They stuffed it in Mengele's sock.
      They saved Hitler's cock, and now it wants to talk.

      Now it's starting to get hard, I found it in my backyard.
      Every night it kills a dog, and now it wants, some night and fog
      Hitler's cock is on

  • The cat will get out of the bag eventually. What matters is whether it happens sooner than later.
    • The real doom would be flu with the effects of ebola.

      • Ebola is self-limiting - it kills fast and the symptoms are obvious, so outbreaks are quickly noticed and easily contained. You get outbreaks, yes - but something slower like HIV or TB can spread a lot further and become truly endemic, killing a lot more people in the long run.

        A particularly bad strain of flu is quite capable of killing millions. That's why there was such fear over bird flu and swine flu: They never amounted to much, but every new flu strain is a potential repeat of the 1918 pandemic. Event

  • Super regeneration or super strength would be nice, but I will settle for selective enlargement or super pheromone production.
    • Super strength should be an easy one. Aim for MSTN, turn down myostatin production. There would be some side-effects though: Higher dietary requirements, and you'd want to do lots of animal modelling first to check for impact upon organs that include muscle tissue. Heart, digestive tract. But it's already well-studied in animals, so it might be achivable. If you've got money, an expert scientist, and a secret island base to hide from authorities.

      • Perhaps you're thinking of the German "super-baby", described at http://altereddimensions.net/2... [altereddimensions.net] ? The kid apparently can't swim without flotation devices, due to the amount of dense muscle in his small build. I'll be fascinated to see if he makes it to adulthood, and certainly hope for his sake that he makes it without dangerous medical complications. If that mutation can be activated, or emulated, without other medical issues it could be very promising for long space flights where muscle loss is a real

      • by oic0 ( 1864384 )
        I'm ok with increased dietary needs, but if you have myostatin deficiency you end up with so much extra bulk that you become obese and cause extra strain on your organ systems. Gonna need to figure out how to enhance the rest of my organ systems to take the strain or at least let them heal from it fast enough to not degenerate even as I age (and perhaps stop aging, that would be nice lol).
        • I'm not thinking of a severe myostatic deficiency. Just a slight one. Enough that you can get the muscle mass that any unenhanced person could achieve with four hours a day at the gym, but without needing to waste all that time.

  • does Beau come in SD and ultra HD?

    • They're communists?

      • They aren't republicans, because today you need to be creationist to be a true republican.

  • by Kohath ( 38547 ) on Saturday February 13, 2016 @11:14PM (#51504007)

    Fortunately, we know from gun controllers what all the arguments are for regulating something during a moral panic:

    - We must regulate this assault science.
    - No more than 7 strands of DNA -- why would anyone ever need more than that?
    - Scientists must register and be fingerprinted by their local sherrif.
    - They must keep all their test tubes in a regulation safe when not in use.
    - Scientists shouldn't have access to automatic equipment. No military-style scientific equipment either.
    - One equipment purchase per scientist per month.
    - Buying scientific equipment for another scientist will be a felony.
    - Convicted felons won't be allowed to possess scientific equipment.
    - Scientific equipment will only be allowed to be sold through a licensed dealer, with Federal background checks.

    These and other common-sense controls will help keep us safe from these rogue scientists. We must enact them now, before it's too late!

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I was a research assistant at a large university in the U.S. for 15 years and you are not too far from reality.

      "Scientists must register and be fingerprinted by their local sherrif"

      I had to do this, the odds of having to do this goes up with your lab's biosafety level.

      "They must keep all their test tubes in a regulation safe when not in use."

      See above.

      "Scientists shouldn't have access to automatic equipment. No military-style scientifi

      • by Jiro ( 131519 )

        While those things are sort of true, there's a difference between doing something because it's a good idea and because it's the law. You don't hear of someone raiding a meth lab and arresting five people for unregistered possession of scientific equipment, possession of scientific equipment by a felon (never mind constructive possession), and failure to secure the equipment in an equipment safe. If it's not a law, there's no danger of someone opposed to science using the nonexistent law as a way to make t

  • "Some of these labs might alter particular genes to create so-called “designer babies”, with tailored features that range from height and eye color to disease immunity." Who came up with the term designer babies? Sounds so inhuman. Babies are not accessories like designer handbags or designer shoes.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Zobeid ( 314469 )

      Making it sound inhuman is the whole point. If you're against something, make it sound evil!

      Don't like guns? Talk about "assault weapons" and "cop-killer bullets".

      Don't like GM foods? They can be "frankenfoods".

      And now. . . Designer babies!

      • by Lumpy ( 12016 )

        Which is why I like to combine the two and tell people that I own several assault weapons loaded with cop killer bullets. Oh and SILENCERS! I can shoot the gun in complete silence!

        All of that stuff works by taking advantage of the general population's low education level. An educated population is harder to whip up into fear frenzy than a dumb one.

      • Don't like guns? Talk about "assault weapons"

        That's not to make them sound evil. It's because the military calls them assult rifles and that term was coined by... er... Hitler it seems. So maybe it was meant to soud evil. But in a good way, if you're a Nazi perhaps?

        • by AJWM ( 19027 )

          Assault weapons is not the same term as assault rifles. In particular, an assault rifle is capable of selective, eg fully automatic, fire, whereas assault weapons are generally not and are basically "scary looking semi-automatic weapons".

          The term assault rifle is used to distinguish from the (typically somewhat larger, heavier, and higher caliber) battle rifle.

    • Maybe they just let the real definitions do the work..

      Designer: a person who plans the form, look, or workings of something before its being made or built, typically by drawing it in detail.

      Baby: a very young child, especially one newly or recently born.

      Yeah, I know, the designer handbags and shoes use another definition : made by or having the expensive sophistication of a famous and prestigious fashion designer.

      One seems a more proper use of the term but not the most popular in connection to this way it i

    • And should babies also come with a set of options like those designer handbags or shoes? Would you like a boy or girl? What colour of hair and eyes will they have? How tall should they be? Average intelligence or above average? Should they be athletic or not?

      When you start designing something then people have a tendency to start calling it a designer something. Maybe it's not the name that's not inhuman but what is being named.

    • Eye color? Height? Stop thinking so small. How about ultra-violet vision?

    • Babies are not accessories like designer handbags or designer shoes.

      Alas, they are. That's how you get stupid spoiled whore syndrome. Surely you have encountered trustafarians during your travels...

  • by meglon ( 1001833 ) on Sunday February 14, 2016 @12:04AM (#51504223)
    Gene splicing autonomous killer robots brought to Earth by aliens find Jesus.... riding on Bigfoot's shoulders.
  • by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) on Sunday February 14, 2016 @12:41AM (#51504375) Journal

    Procedurally-generated and perma-death.

  • Because our recusing from genetic engineering will have effect on the ability of bad actors to exploit the tech. All it would do is prevent us from fighting back.

  • by WorBlux ( 1751716 ) on Sunday February 14, 2016 @01:17AM (#51504495)
    I for only welcome our the new hallucinogenic flu season.
  • by mentil ( 1748130 ) on Sunday February 14, 2016 @01:22AM (#51504521)

    The US Intelligence chief is just afraid that the scientists will find the backdoor they left in the human genome, and edit it out.

  • Waiting For The Barbarians

    What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?

    The barbarians are due here today.
    Why isn't anything happening in the senate?
    Why do the senators sit there without legislating?

    Because the barbarians are coming today.
    What laws can the senators make now?
    Once the barbarians are here, they'll do the legislating.
    Why did our emperor get up so early,
    and why is he sitting at the city's main gate
    on his throne, in state, wearing the crown?

    Because the barbarians are coming today
    a

  • Out with the old and in with the old?

    Seriously this is some pretty hefty garbage.

  • ...what you'll REALLY be worried about though is where you'll get your next job.

    Science is good for us, it keeps the ideas fresh, spreads the wealth instead of a selected few, it even helps contribute to natural selection (however harsh that might sound), but there's something MUCH worse you SHOULD worry about - and that's the coming civil unrest, mass lay-offs, the new working class vs the non working class.

    Technically I think the future is bright, but that's only AFTER 20+ years or so...when we're pa
    • by Lumpy ( 12016 )

      Just wait. Everyone thinks the Republican party supports gun rights..... Just wait for them to decide that armed citizens are not good for their masters.

      And there wont be a huge fight. Here in the USA we gleefully gave up the 5th amendment to protect us from the boogymen of terrorisim. the 1st and 2nd amendment are also on the chopping block and will go down with unified support in congress.

      It's just going to take time and the rich have to start feeling afraid of the poor having guns.

      • The weapon related pats of the US constitution are outdated since the secession war.

        If you think the US population can defend itself by mere hand guns against a trained standing army ... if the government runs amok and uses the army/navy/airforce against the people: you are very disillusioned ...

        The only reason why most western civilizations are safe: standing armies are "people" too, sooner or later they would not cooperate with the "government" anymore and switch sides.

        And for that to happen: you better h

  • by SlovakWakko ( 1025878 ) on Sunday February 14, 2016 @06:21AM (#51505109)
    More like established and wealthy governments, in the name of democracy, national security and the usual world domination. It wasn't rogue scientists who have developed chemical weapons, the atom bomb etc.
    • by HiThere ( 15173 )

      You need to study a bit of history. Actually, SO FAR the western domination has been relatively humane. Contemplate Assyria, consider the Peloponesian wars, look into the history of Athens and Crete. I'm not as well versed in Asian history, but from brief glimses they would also fit.

      But do note the "SO FAR". Generally the worst atrocities come when the dominate power starts to fear that it's losing it's power.

      That said, small groups that feel themselves either divinely guided or immune to repercussions,

  • Want something sinister? manipulate the common flu to mutate rapidly and spreads easier. Imagine catching the flu that never ever goes away, you can cripple a country's workforce rapidly. If you never get away from the Flu symptoms your work output drops dramatically, productivity drops dramatically, etc...

    • That is like saying "just create an AI" that will wipe up humanity. The best we can do is Siri. We aren't in any danger.
  • I know I am acting as a one-note musician of late, so feel free to skip this if you've heard it (from me) before but this is not just the shape things to come, it is one example of a force which will dictate every aspect of your life, every aspect of how governments are (re)structured, every one of our childrens' lives will be grounded in and determined in large part by this force. The force is simply the fact that technology is rapidly bestowing the power to cause very great destruction to very large numbe

  • "bioethicist" sounds fancy but strikes me as a load of codswallop. Much like 'philosopher' anyone can claim to be one, and be right.
  • I keep seeing this in the news, so I'm assuming that the feds are setting the groundwork to introduce legislation to "fix" this problem (because laws are magical and can stop bad guys from doing bad things). I actually don't know *why* they want to stifle research in this area - I mean the actual, real reason, not the scary bullshit - but someone apparently wants a monopoly on it or something.

"It says he made us all to be just like him. So if we're dumb, then god is dumb, and maybe even a little ugly on the side." -- Frank Zappa

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