Thursday, October 31, 2013

Biological Virus can now spread via email.

When the first computer viruses began to emerge in early 1970'ties, I thought the name was a great analogy
to the biological counterparts, but I was also happy that these digital self-reproducing elements where not able to infect my physical body. Unfortunately, these happy days may soon be over.

In a resent article in the magazine Foreign Affairs the term "Germs 2.0: the first self-replicating bacteria made in a lab" is used to introduce us to the fact that we can make and replicate artificial virus and bacteria, which in turn can replicate itself. According to the article, it seem that we need to get used to the fact that we can "start in the computer in the digital world from digitized biology, and make new DNA constructs for very specific purposes".

Simply put, we can change the printer head from a 3D-printer which normally uses plastic as printing material to printing with nucleotides, and thus making self-reproducing biological beings. The article describes how J. Craig Venter,  an American biologist and entrepreneur, is able to produce a virus with a printer in 12 hours from an e-mail. Today this is used to make virus for vaccine production. Venter talks about this in a lecture at the Trinity College Dublin.

Another article in Council on Foreign Relations speculates on how this might influence on global security policies. It seem that cyber-warfare can very fast transform in to biological warfare. The article describes how "the Animal Influenza Lab of China's Harbin Veterinary Research Institute used new biology techniques in 2013 to manufacture 127 previously nonexistent types of influenza viruses, five of which spread through the air between guinea pigs". We can now ask ourselves: What is worst, to spread these 127 viruses by simply letting them into the air, or by email over the Internet?

So, as DNA synthesis and production of living organisms seem to be connected to the digital world, we can perhaps expect that future computer programs, good or bad, can reproduce themselves as living creatures. Today, it seem that comparing this outlook with the Terminator movies and Skynet taking over the world with mechanical robots was just another proof that reality beats fantasy by far...

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