Genetically Tailored Plagues or genetically engineered biological agents are bacterial and/or viral weapons designed by humans. The intentional design of such agents was first started in the 1960s by the US and the Soviet Union and today many countries have the capability and the technical knowledge to design such weapons and to implement bio-weapons research programs. A large number of weaoponized anthrax and small pox have disappeared from the Soviet Union and there is a possibility that some of them might have been sold to Third World countries. Some countries have also been engaging in genetic manipulation.
A major example is Cuba, a country with a very strong genetic and biomedical infrastructure and the capability to use DNA methods to produce bioweapons and vaccines. (Hughes, James) Since the September 11th incident and the increasing rate of terrorism all around the world the threat from tailored bioweapons is increasing day by day. Most of the information about the genomes of smallpox, cholera, plague and other pathogens is now easily available over the Internet and provides anyone with the possible technical resources the opportunity to design lethal genetic weapons.
For example the Soviets have already engineered several antibiotic-resistant anthrax weapons and have also worked with smallpox and Ebola. Keeping in mind the rising threat from such agents, the National Institute of Health and National Academy of Sciences has issues several warnings and has organized meetings to discuss and address this issue. (Hughes, James) Genetic engineering should be utilized for beneficial purposes for instance finding cure for the common cold or HIV and other therapeutic uses or to find viral vectors that would spread beneficial genes through patients rather than cause them harm.
However, when in the wrong hands, genetic engineering can result in human beings intentionally designing and developing infection agents for the purpose of mass destruction or to cause catastrophic effects in humans or the environment. Technology has advanced to such a large extent that there is a high risk that a terrorist or a lunatic may create a weapon with high virulence and which could inflict harm on a large number of people and geographical area. (Bostrom, Nick) A major reason why the use and design of genetic weapons is increasing is the fact that most information is easily accessible through scientific literature.
It is imperative that to minimize the chances of this information getting into the wrong hands, it is contained and restricted to authorized personnel only. Genetic medicine is a beneficial field if used in the right direction and for improved cures and vaccines but there is no guarantee that it will be only utilized for positive reasons. (Bostrom, Nick) Advancement in genetic technology should be targeted towards preparing prophylaxis and counter measures to protect humans against harm from genetic bio-weapons.
In fact, nations should work towards renouncing the development of such weapons altogether and instead should focus on using genetic research for positive reasons only. Joy Luddite’s proposal makes perfect sense when he says: “These technologies are too powerful to be shielded against in the time frame of interest… The only realistic alternative I see is relinquishment: to limit development of the technologies that are too dangerous, by limiting our pursuit of certain kinds of knowledge.
” (Hughes, James) Nanotechnology “Nanotechnology is the science of making machines at the nanometer scale which could eventually manipulate the individual molecules or even atoms and build more copies of themselves. ” (Hughes, James) Although this technology is expected to be fully functional and usable in the next thirty or forty years, countries like the US, European Union, China, Russia, Iran, India etc have already started investing large amounts on nanotechnology research and development programs.
(Hughes, James) Nanotechnology will enable the development of “bacterium-scale self-replicating mechanical robots” that have the ability to feed on dirt and organic matter. (Bostrom, Nick) Nanomachines or technologically known as “graygoo” can be a significant threat to humans in future. A projected scenario depicts these nanomachines programmed to eat everything and anything on Earth destroying the entire planet. This scenario was first predicted by Greg Bear in his book “Blood Music”. According to Freitas (2000) nanomachines can eat the entire planet in only one week.
(Hughes, James) Some may have the potential to “eat up the biosphere” or destroy it completely by either burning it, poisoning it or by blocking out sunlight. (Bostrom, Nick) In order to minimize the threat from these machines and to keep their control in our hands, it is essential to implement industry standards that would make these machines dependent on specific resources or limit their replication. Nanoimmune systems can also be implemented to prevent and control nanoplagues as well as detect and destroy graygoo if the need arises.
(Hughes, James) Similar to genetically tailored plagues, nanomachines could be a serious threat in future and could cause major catastrophe if used by the wrong people for the wrong reasons. (Hughes, James) Terrorists or lunatics may use this technology to cause the complete extinction of life form on Earth. Once again, this technology is quite easy to develop and thus it is essential to outline measures that would prevent it from getting into the wrong hands. This might be a challenging task since the regulation of nanotechnology is difficult.
Unlike nuclear weapons, nanomachines do not “require rare radioactive isotopes or easily identifiable manufacturing plants” (Bostrom, Nick) There is also a risk that different states may get involved in an arms race to possess this technology. “It has been argued that molecular manufacturing would lead to both arms race instability (meaning the race to dominate each other by escalating one’s armaments) and crisis instability (meaning trying to attain dominant incentives for striking first).
” (Bostrom, Nick) In other words, two rival states can work towards building and developing arms and weapons programs until a time would come when a crisis would occur and both countries would go at war with each other resulting in a “global terminal destruction. ” Moreover, even if the technology is not used for negative purposes, there is always a possibility of accidents happening. This can be avoided by ensuring that adequate standards are met and that responsible engineering practices are implemented such as avoidance of self-replication techniques, making nanobots dependent; confining them in sealed environments etc. (Bostrom, Nick)