From The Daily Mail
We must urgently prepare for man-made viruses that are ‘easy to develop’ and could wipe out tens of MILLIONS of people, scientists warn
•Existing bacteria and viruses can be engineered to be much more harmful
•Application of this synthetic biology will become achievable in the future
•Recreating viruses from scratch, making bacteria more deadly and modifying microbes are the three most pressing threats
Urgent action is needed to defend against man-made viruses that are ‘easy to develop’ and could wipe out tens of millions of people.
That’s the terrifying warning made by scientists to the Pentagon in a major report created for the US Department of Defence.
In it, scientists claim that rapid advances in biology are making it easier for terrorists to develop biological weapons by engineering microbes.
They say that there are three main scenarios that governments must prepare for to safeguard their citizens.
Viruses could be created from scratch to infect millions of people.
Fairly simple procedures can be used to modify the genes of bacteria that would make them resistant to antibiotics, the report found.
This would potentially make people who got infected incurable.
Ex-Nato commander James Stavridis has previously described the prospect of advanced biological technology being used by terrorists or ‘rogue nations’ as ‘most alarming’.
He said that it could lead to an epidemic ‘not dissimilar to the Spanish influenza’ a century ago.
He claims biological weapons of mass destruction with the ability to spread deadly diseases like Ebola and Zika could wipe out up to a fifth of the world’s population.
In 2015, an EU report suggested that ISIS has recruited experts to wage war on the West using chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction.
Last year researchers created an infectious horsepox virus.
Scientists from the University of Alberta hope that the virus could be used to create more effective vaccines for smallpox — one of the most deadly viruses that caused millions of deaths around the world.
But other experts have warned that the relatively easy technique could be replicated by terrorists to create biological weapons.
While WHO guidelines prevent scientists from attempting to build the full smallpox genome, this new research shows that it is possible to buy the DNA building blocks without being flagged.
And experts say the technique is fairly easy to replicate.
Speaking to The Washington Post, Peter Jahrling, a virologist at the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said: ‘Maybe not some guy in a cave, but a reasonably equipped undergraduate microbiology lab could repeat this trick.’
In the wrong hands, the technique to synthesise viruses could be diasterous.
Speaking to Science, Paul Keim, an expert in bioweapons at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, said: ‘Bringing back an extinct virus that is related to smallpox, that’s a pretty inflammatory situation.
‘There is always an experiment or event that triggers closer scrutiny, and this sounds like it should be one of those events where the authorities start thinking about what should be regulated.’
These include the prospect of recreating viruses from scratch, tweaking bacteria so that they are more dangerous, and tweaking microbes so they manufacture toxins.
Although malicious applications of this synthetic biology might not seem plausible now, they will become achievable in the future, the Pentagon was told.