Can the tool edit the genome to become a biological weapon?

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2017-09-05 16:30:07

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Can the tool edit the genome to become a biological weapon? Source:

Method of editing CRISPR gene after scientists reported that used it for the safe removal of disease from human embryos for the first time. This was followed by "fever CRISPR," which continues for several years, and the number of scientific publications on this topic is steadily increasing.

There are good reasons for increased attention to CRISPR.This method allows scientists to "cut and paste" DNA is even simpler than ever. It is used in various fields, ranging from cancer treatment and ending with the control of diseases carried by insects.

Some of these applications, such as creating mosquitoes that can resist the parasite that caused malaria, inevitably lead to a reconfiguration of the ecosystem. Therefore, CRISPR raises many concerns of ethics and safety. Some are also concerned that application of the studied defense organizations interested in "innovative applications" should raise a red flag for other States.

There are also fears that editing of the genes will be able to use in the development of biological weapons. In 2016, bill gates noted that "the next epidemic may occur on the computer screen with the intent of terrorists to use genetic engineering to create a synthetic version of the smallpox virus". Most recently, in July 2017, John SOTOS from the Intel Health &Life Sciences, said that research for editing genes could "open the potential for biological weapons of unimaginable destructive potential."

In February of 2016, it became evident that the wide availability and low cost of the basic ingredients of technologies like CRISPR, makes it particularly relevant.

However, you need to be careful with the hype around new technologies and, currently, opportunities CRISPR rather modest and exaggerated. There are methods of terror and simpler and rougher. While that CRISPR could only attract bio-terrorists. But other steps, such as propagation and cultivation of biological weapons agents to make it effective. This requires additional skills, and the creation of biological weapons based on CRISPR will be unavailable for most terrorist groups. At least not yet.

But this does not mean that malicious use of CRISPR impossible. As it is impossible to ignore the important role of CRISPR in any biological program of the future.

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International efforts

It is Worth noting that the majority of States around the world abhor biological warfare. Methods are being actively implemented against the development of biological weapons. At the international level is the Convention on biological and toxin weapons. According to this Convention, "countries have agreed to never, under any circumstances, purchase or store biological weapons."

This agreement and to ensure compliance is difficult. Moreover, in recent time, the countries-parties to the agreement are not particularly vigilant for its execution, and at the last meeting and not able to agree on further work. While it is our cornerstone of the fight against biological weapons. All 178 signatories to the agreement, in December 2016, stated his "iron determination to exclude completely the possibility of use of biological weapons and the conviction that such use would be repugnant to the conscience of mankind".

Consequently, these States will have to deal with hostile potential of CRISPR. Moreover, they must do it collectively. Important unilateral national measures, the procedures of biological security. However, to achieve the prohibition of hostile use of CRISPR individual state is unlikely.

Thus, when States parties to the Convention will meet at the end of this year, it is important to agree on a more systematic and regular review of science and technology. Such reviews can help identify and determine the degree of risk technologies such as CRISPR, as well as in the provision of international exchange of information about some of the potential benefits of such technologies.

Most States have endorsed the principle of extended related science and technology in the framework of the Convention at the last big meeting. But now they need to take this opportunity to negotiate on the practical implementation of such reviews, in order to prevent that the Convention will remain outside the framework of the development of science and technology.

Biological warfare is not an inevitable consequence of advances in the life Sciences. For the development and use of biological weapons requires the appropriate Agency. Imperfect Convention would not be able to guarantee that States parties will always be able to speak out against the malicious use of biology. But they can affect these decisions and to create an environment in which the drawbacks of searching for such weapons outweigh the benefits.

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