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Medicine Science

Scientists Develop Kill Switches In Case Bioengineered Microbes Go Rogue (upi.com) 66

schwit1 quotes UPI: Scientists at Harvard have developed a pair of new kill switches that can be used to thwart bioengineered microbes that go rogue. Researchers have been testing the use of bioengineered microbes for a variety of purposes, from the diagnosis of disease in the human body to the neutering of mosquitoes. But there remain concerns about releasing manipulated microbes into nature. Could their augmented genes have unintended consequences? Could they morph and proliferate?

Kill-switches ensure the microbes effectively shutdown, or commit suicide, after they've executed their intended function. While kill switches have proven effective in the lab, researchers suggest kill-switch technologies needed to be improved to ensure safety in real-world environs... The researchers detailed their new kill switches in a new paper published this week in the journal Molecular Cell. "This study shows how our teams are leveraging synthetic biology not only to reprogram microbes to create living cellular devices that can carry out useful functions for medicine and environmental remediation, but to do this in a way that is safe for all," said Donald Ingber, founding director of the Wyss Institute.

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Scientists Develop Kill Switches In Case Bioengineered Microbes Go Rogue

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  • by Archtech ( 159117 ) on Sunday November 19, 2017 @08:13AM (#55580273)

    "Scientists at Harvard have developed a pair of new kill switches that can be used to thwart bioengineered microbes that go rogue".

    Nearly right! But it's quite important to implement the kill switches BEFORE the microbes "go rogue" (whatever that may mean).

    • by gweihir ( 88907 )

      Definition of "microbes go rogue": The designer fucked up badly due to small skills, big ego and management pressure. I.e. the normal way things happen these days of pseudo-skills.

    • by mjwx ( 966435 )

      "Scientists at Harvard have developed a pair of new kill switches that can be used to thwart bioengineered microbes that go rogue".

      Nearly right! But it's quite important to implement the kill switches BEFORE the microbes "go rogue" (whatever that may mean).

      Henry Wu: Actually they can't breed in the wild. Population control is one of our security precautions. There's no unauthorized breeding in Jurassic Park.
      Dr. Ian Malcolm: How do you know they can't breed?
      Henry Wu: Well, because all the animals in Jurassic Park are female. We've engineered them that way.
      Dr. Ian Malcolm: But again, how do you know they're all female? Does somebody go out into the park and pull up the dinosaurs' skirts?
      Henry Wu: We control their chromosomes. It's really not that difficult

  • It seems to me that having two of the same type of technology does not do much to improve the overall safety factor. There are still systemic issues which lead to the possibility of both types of biological "kill switch" from operating.

    What the researchers should be considering is a diversity of approaches to controlling rogue microbes: one biological and some other sort - physical, electrical, chemical, time-dependent. So if there was an "unknown unknown" that prevented successful killing, there was a fa

    • It's a bit more complex than 'two switches using the same type of technology' - it relies on an active channel to ensure that the inserted killer virus (bacteriophage) genome still exists.

      It is hardly perfect and in The Fine Article is really touted as a demonstration on how one can proceed with other, presumably interconnected pathways to make a more robust safety system. I still have doubts on how this will play out in the long run (long in this case being perhaps a decade for a rapidly growing bacterium

      • The AID virus is not "finding a way" to defeat three drug therapy. Three different protease inhibitors target the critical protease molecule in different ways such that it cannot mutate to defeat all three and still work.

        This work is not the final stage, it is simply showing a two step mechanism that requires two gene segments be lost in a particular order for the kill switch to be deactivated. More complex schemes are easily imagined, two different two component kill switches; mutually lethal two component

  • by AndyKron ( 937105 ) on Sunday November 19, 2017 @08:39AM (#55580395)
    You must pay a monthly subscription to your newly programmed genes or we pull the kill switch....
  • by BlueCoder ( 223005 ) on Sunday November 19, 2017 @09:21AM (#55580547)

    Assuming we are talking about bacteria and viruses that multiple by binary cell devision the real threat is viruses. Viruses come in all shapes and sizes and you can not assume one will not recognize your cell and try to coopt it at which point it will absorb some of the DNA of that cell as well as deposit some of it's own DNA.

    Often times lateral DNA transfers like this are innocuous but there is always the chance something unusual will happen.. Fortunately as mammels we won't have to worry about mutation and passing stuff onto our children for the most part as those cells are mostly protected in our bodies. The real threat is for cancers and new transferable diseases.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    And then evolution kick in...

  • by Anonymous Coward

    We are dealing with counts in the millions. If these kill switches aren't effectively reproduced at very nearly 100% of the time, these aren't going to provide any real safety.

  • We're sincerely sorry, the bioengineered microbes we designed have mutated and the kill switch doesn't work anymore.
  • And they are "too expensive" and after the technology has become somewhat widespread, it will be done without the safety mechanisms. And guess what? Nothing will be happening to the guilty, just as today.

    • the existence of "a guilty party" assumes two kinds of survivors of a bad bio accident.

      • by gweihir ( 88907 )

        Oh, there will be survivors. One reason bio-weapons are not used in practice (other then chemical ones) is that they are really hard to deliver, i.e. you usually hit only a small number of people. The other is that many people will survive or even not get sick. But a few million dead if something like this goes bad in a larger city are a real possibility. Most will actually not die from the pathogen though, but from the panic.

        • if civilization comes apart the notion of "guilt" and venues for prosecution disappear along with law and borders. A bunch of savages in L.A. can know nothing and do nothing about the former biotech employees on the east coast.

  • Um, so I'm guessing it would be bad to get infected by one of these virii. It could end up being a time delay a la bladerunner.

  • Company that makes bioengineered microbes found a way to kill the cure if the subscription is not paid in time...
  • It evolves and now we all have a "kill switch." Good thing the average person is as dumb as a gullible box of rocks so we can blame it on the Mosquitos. Then maybe we can DEET everything again, knock down the bird and bat population to make it safer for drones. -_-
  • by future assassin ( 639396 ) on Sunday November 19, 2017 @02:45PM (#55581901) Homepage

    These guys haven't heard of evolution?

  • Unless the 'kill switch' is 100% effective 100% of the time, doesn't that mean that there will be (at some point) one successful survivor that will breed?
    And like the parent, the offspring won't (all?) be responsive to the kill switch.
    So until "kill switch" technology is 100% effective 100% of the time ...

    Cut the funding to this now. It's a stupid idea.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Scientists invest in kill switch for rogue microbes ignoring basic known science.
    What could possibly go wrong for these illiterate scientists?
    Evolution invests in killing kill switch to help rogue microbes. News at 10!

... though his invention worked superbly -- his theory was a crock of sewage from beginning to end. -- Vernor Vinge, "The Peace War"