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'[EE]:: Scientists Build First Man-Made Genome; Syn'
My cousin Matthew forwarded me this reference.
I was sure that it would just be more of the rubbish that pervades this
topic but decided to have a quick look to confirm my suppositions.
The not quite smiling face of Craig Venter that heads the article told me
immediately that this is, after all, the real thing.
We stand on the bridge at Khazad-dûm. The not distant enough drums sound
their doom-doom call and it's not certain, yet, if Venter is himself the
Balrog or if he is soon to conjure it from the abyss. As he's one of my
select group of (anti?-)heroes I can't complain all too much.
If you can't make head nor tail of that wait a few years and it will be the
only news going :-).
Be a good use for a space station on a non-free return trajectory me thinks.
Same for Nanotech.
You have a gray goop scenario happen then do nothing because in 50 years
the things going to hit the sun anyway.
> ... The current crop of species here have 'balanced out',
> having deleted
> perhaps millions of other species in the process. Our
> current mechanisms have
> been pretty primitive at really 'doing anything', ie,
> producing more of the
> same gases that already exist, just at greater qty, or
> introducing synthetic
> chemicals in limited areas that the human hierarchy
> declared 'safe', yet look
> at the damage done.
In GE, whether by direct life synthesis using the toolkit,
or by less direct hacking, the "best" thing that can happen
is an extremely significant disaster that kills, say, tens
of thousands of people or, possibly, animals unequivocally,
unhideably, very uniquely and relatively fast. There should
be no way that it can be explained away, seen as an isolated
case or hidden. If it can be it will be. If it can't they
will try. As a bonus the death that it brings should be as
painless and pleasant as possible.
This, while an undoubted catastrophe for the people involved
in various ways, would be the "best thing" [tm] for the
human race as a whole as it provides an unmistakeable heads
up of the dangers involved and is the most likely means of
achieving subsequent proper treatment of the whole issue. It
would almost certainly lead to a medium term knee jerk
over-reaction with excessive caution and banning of anything
vaguely related and a great set back to progress in the
field, followed by an oscillatory approach to a reasoned and
steady state 'solution' to the problem. Anything that is not
massively lethal and unable to be seen for what it is will
not touch the hive mind well enough to be effective. This is
essentially the way that major progress occurs in any area
of major human risk. While many would hope that an animal
catastrophe would serve the same purpose, the spin doctors
generally have enough sway that you need a more gut level
My most likely "doomsday" scenarios for GE in all its guises
come in two forms.
1. "Long duration nuclear bomber is substituted for an
airliner on a scheduled route and then holds the country to
ransom - or just nukes the white house". aka A "vector" that
is benign and familiar to the target is used to carry a
payload or payloads into areas where they can do essentially
unlimited damage. The need for self reproduction is a given.
This is the form that the (accidental) proof of concept
Australian mouse virus took. It's saving grace was that
while utterly lethal it proved to be much less infectious
than would be usually expected. There is no reason to think
that both characteristics must be mutually exclusive and
every reason to think that they need not. Had it escaped
"into the wild" its low infectiousness would probably have
not allowed it to spread. If it had been normally or above
normally infectious and had escaped then all species related
Australian mice would probably be dead by now - and possibly
worldwide. While at 1st gasp this may seem to be a positive
there is every chance that this would not prove to be the
case. One can be as near certain as one can be about
anything that "biological warfare" teams worldwide have been
working with this information ever since and by now will
have come up with some real doozies.
Note that the 'attacking enemy" in the following is a part
of "the victims" own genetic structure - whether by mutation
or other means)
2. "Wake the Alien Queen" / "Berlin Airlift". aka Long
long ago in a world not at all far away the masters of
internal genetic 'improvement' and destruction and survival
fought their battles. The most successful died because they
killed their hosts too effectively. [Ebola approach]. The
least successful died because their hosts fought them too
effectively. Sometimes the fight was intelligence rather
than just cellular-selection driven [eg Smallpox].
Somewhere in the middle there was a terrible battle (such as
we now see with eg sickle cell anemia) where the losses were
not so great as to persuade or compel their victims to
succumb or exist without procreation, but the effects were
terrible to behold. As with SCA there may have been side
benefits (freedom from Malaria for SCA) which helped the
protagonists to carve out a niche in the victims genome.
Over time the victims built genetic ring fences around their
internal enemy self and the enemy, though still carried
within, was "turned off" and no longer able to do its thing.
We now come, both with Venter's help, and with all the
traditional GE approaches and leap the ring fences or,
better still, 'fly in' 'fly out' material across the
boundaries. Or we may create 7 league boots that go looking
for clients who wish to change location. Occasionally we
break down the ring fences but so far, as we are woefully
ill equipped for identifying a ring fence when we see one
the random airlifts tend to be the more common means. Any of
these scenarios may suddenly unleash an old foe into a
battleground where the once effective opposition has long
since itself been dismantled or ring fenced away as
unnecessary or too costly to maintain in operating condition
when there is no longer a crucial call for its services.
While it may be that the reappearance of the old foe will
also trigger the reawakening of its nemesis, it is more
likely that the ringfenced saviour will remain that way as
the old fully armed, up to speed and ready for action enemy
cuts a swath across a battlefield that has not been through
the normal "arms race" of preparation that allowed it to
compete with it well enough to ensure a degree of
client(that's you and yours) survival. The consequence may
be that something that was simply crippling before will now
be species risking.
In 1918-1919 a new strain of influenza (good old common flu
to you) killed more people than died in the whole of World
War 1. In places where flu was especially unknown it was
especially effective. Samoa suffered very badly. When
Europeans first discovered Tahiti en masse they imported the
common cold (3 days of work for you) which caused massive
fatalities. When Alien and Predator are unleashed in our
genomes there is no reason to think that they MAY not be as
lethal as the common cold was, long ago in Tahiti.
While my terminology is (purposefully) irregular and my
depth of knowledge shallow to non-existent and while in some
areas I am just plain wrong, I'd utterly guarantee that
Craig Venter would whole-heartedly agree with the general
gist of what I say.
We stand on the bridge at Khazad-dûm.
The not distant enough drums sound their doom-doom call.
I do believe that's a Balrog over there ...
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