Doomsday Bug, WAS: Goo--was Nuke etc.

From: Michael S. Lorrey (
Date: Wed Jan 10 2001 - 13:54:15 MST

John Marlow wrote:
> Have no fear: "sitting around" is not my intention.
> The most worrisome thing to me is that it will
> ultimately be politicians making the final
> decisions--which are, of course, far too important to
> be left to politicians.

Worry more: we don't need to wait for nanotech, normal biotech is
already doing quite well all by accident. The following article details
what sort of stuff can happen by accident. I frankly have more faith in
the security of nanotech that is engineered from the ground up
purposefully rather than depending on the hit and miss techniques of
biologists today:

Thursday, January 11 3:00 AM SGT

Aussie scientists stumble across the Doomsday Bug

PARIS, Jan 10 (AFP) -

Australian gene engineers accidentally created a mouse virus that kills
every one of its victims by wrecking their immune system, a discovery
with the potential for
making the ultimate terrorist weapon, New Scientist reports.

The killer bug was invented quite inadvertently, while the researchers
were trying to create a contraceptive vaccine for mice as a pest
control, the British weekly
reports in next Saturday's issue.

They inserted into a mousepox virus a gene that creates large amounts of
interleukin 4 (IL-4), a naturally-occurring molecule that produces
antibodies in the
immune system.

The idea was to stimulate antibodies to destroy eggs in female mice,
thus making the rodents infertile.

Mousepox, a close relation to smallpox, normally only causes mild
symptoms among the type of mice being used in the study, and was only
being used as a vehicle
to deliver the IL-4.

But when the IL-4 gene was inserted, the engineered virus ran amok,
attacking the "cell-mediated response" -- the part of the immune system
that fights viral
infection. All the animals in the study were wiped out in just nine

Worse, the engineered virus was astonishingly resistant to vaccines. A
vaccine that would normally protect these mice from mousepox only worked
in half of the
mice exposed to the killer version.

Co-researcher Ron Jackson, of the Canberra-based institute CSIRO, said
the discovery was a frightening indicator of what could happen if the
human smallpox
virus was similarly modified.

"It would be safe to assume that if some idiot did put human IL-4 into
human smallpox, they'd increase the lethality quite dramatically," he
told New Scientist.

"Seeing the consequences of what happened in the mice, I wouldn't want
to be the one to do the experiment."

"It's surprising how very, very bad the virus is," said Anne Hill, a
vaccine experts from Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland,

Smallpox has been eradicated as a disease thanks to a global vaccination
campaign, although two laboratories -- one in the United States, the
other in Russia --
still have ampoules containing the virus, under an arrangement with the
World Health Organisation (WHO).

The incident highlights how easy it could be for some with
bio-engineering knowledge to create a murderous virus for which there
would be no cure or effective
vaccine, New Scientist said.

"Vast amounts of time and effort have gone into policing the military's
use of biotechnology. But the activities of civilian biologists have
been ignored," it said.

"Yet genetic engineering techniques are now so widespread that
potentially dangerous results are bound to emerge accidentally."

It suggests tougher vetting of research proposals; a greater effort to
train students in biological subjects about potential dangers arising
from lab work; and
encouraging greater openness among biologists to discuss the misuse of
genetic engineering.

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