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SciFi Musing #1: Scientific Knowledge is outpacing mankind's ability to handle it

CRISPR describes a mechanism that bacteria use as a defense mechanism against viruses. It involves incorporating a part of the virus DNA into their own DNA to use as a fingerprint to quickly identify a repeat invasion. It is also a method for coopting those genes for cutting in (or out) specific gene sequences in a cell. Any cell. I learned about it from Radiolab's latest broadcast and the power of this tool is mind blowing.

First, as the podcast states that (eventually, someday) it is hoped it will be used to treat cancer by targeting specific genetic defects in cancer cells. It can be used to treat chronic genetic diseases by knocking out the bad gene and replacing it with a correct gene. It can be used to "design in" disease resistance for plants and animals.

Those are the good things. But you can take it further. Much further. You can design farm animals and plants that taste better, grow faster. You can design novelty plants and animals. You could genetically engineer a better human.

Or you can destroy humanity. Like any technology this and other techniques can be used in nefarious ways. I'll give you a couple examples.

  1. DNA sequencing has become very cheap, fast and accurate. Making custom DNA sequences has also become cheap. You can order short genetic sequences online and ship them to your house. At the moment they tend to be fairly short. But this science has progressed rapidly and I expect it to continue. At the same time scientists have already sequenced and published sequences for very dangerous bacteriophages. In time, maybe ten years, you will be able to take these genomes, order them, place them in a host cell and culture your own biological weapons. I doubt you could do it without some lab experience. But these things can be had. And if you can't order them you will be able to roll your own equipment.
  2. Could terrorists create a large quantity of CRISPRs, release them into the water and genetically cripple an entire city?
  3. What if an enemy state starts designing super humans by tweaking the genes for more strength, intelligence, speed, etc?

Mankind on the whole isn't mature enough to deal with the technology we already have. I always thought that scientific knowledge would bring maturity and peace with it. Educated mature adults don't usually try to murder people but educating the population is never 100% effective and right now it isn't even close. You can control the technology but only for so long. How do we control this?

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