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Engineered Viruses Are the New Biological Weapons, Here’s What You Need to Know

Microbes are microscopic organisms that we
use to bake bread, brew beer, and lately, engineer with synthetic DNA to create new
biological systems. In this world of synthetic biology, a microbe
is seen as a chassis – or a structural frame to add genes & DNA. It’ll get tested and have its performance
improved, so it can hopefully do something useful for the world. Yet this potential to modify living organisms
and steer them towards global problems is often met with a dark side. It’s a swing between promise and total peril,
and sometimes called “the halfpipe of doom”. To understand why this framing exists, we
have to go back to the early 2000s The Human Genome project was nearing the finish
line. And scientists had new molecular tools to
dream up promising applications. And, a major terrorist attack hit New York
City. “There it is the plane went right through
the other tower of the World Trade Center. In just a weeks time, we have had four confirmed
cases with anthrax all with media connections and a number of anthrax scares as well.” At that point, synthetic biology became a
potential tool for a whole new kind of weapon. When most people think about a bio weapon
they think about some kind of organism, you might think about anthrax bacteria or the
smallpox virus, and that is your weapon. But turning an organism into a lethal pathogen
that can do predictable harm requires more sophistication. Not only do you have to have a pathogen, but
then you have to actually know how to reliably hold it, grow it, and then determine ways
that you can effectively disseminate it so that the bacteria or toxin wouldn’t be destroyed. After World War I, multiple state governments
launched their own biological weapons programs, as a research endeavor and stockpiling counter-measure. That’s probably one of the most sort of top
secret pieces of our former bioweapons program is that formulation of how you keep these
things stable to survive as a weapon. These things are living organisms, so they
are very finicky. In the Soviet biological weapons program,
they tried to create a plague bacteria that was resistant to several different antibiotics. They created this super, duper plague weapon,
but actually it was a horrible weapon because it would just die. They couldn’t have it survive in the environment. With this focused experimentation, scientists
ended up creating enough bioweapons to kill every person on the planet. But luckily, national governments signed a
treaty to ban biological weapons. Decades later, huge investments in genetics
made the tools and techniques cheaper and more accessible. Enough for it to be possible to create an
engineered synthetic pathogen. And that’s why synthbio, and its quest to
make biology easier to engineer set off alarm bells. In 2002, a group of scientists from the State
University of New York at Stony Brook created the first artificial polio virus, synthetically,
not using any natural viral components, so that was a real radical innovation. At that time, a congressman picked up the
New York Times that day, read about this artificial synthesis of the polio virus, and really got
freaked out. Then, a lot of other federal entities got
concerned about what happened here. Did we slip up? Should we have done more to have oversight
over this? This polio virus study was actually funded
by DARPA, an agency within the U.S. government. All this controversy came out: is this experiment
a blueprint for bio terrorism? I became very interested in sort of really
wondering is that the case? Is it now that easy to create the pathogen
from scratch? And, I was, I wasn’t sure. There was a lot of focus on the materials
that the scientists basically could buy commercially to do their experiments, the fact that they
could download information off of the internet, so it wasn’t really anything that required
highly sophisticated material or equipment. But there’s more to this particular story. I thought it would be interesting to go and
interview the scientists involved. And what was really fascinating is once I
started kind of probing a little bit about the experiment, they suddenly came to describe
this later part, which actually required a significant amount of expertise. Basically if you couldn’t do that part of
the experiment, the experiment would fail. You couldn’t actually create the artificial
polio virus. But you wouldn’t know that by reading any
of the newspaper reports. You wouldn’t know that even by reading the
scientific paper itself. And that widely unreported part involved a
famous cell line…and cow serum. To make this artificial virus, it actually
requires, a very rigorous level of purity of these HeLa cell extracts. These HeLa cells are grown in this cow serum. When they’ve tried to do this experiment using
cow serum bought at different times of the year, that can actually cause a failure in
experiments. They’re hypothesizing because they’re not
really sure, but maybe in these different times of the year, these cows are eating different
kinds of things, and that at a very micro level in the cell actually makes a huge difference. From my perspective, I would just like to
see more robust kinds of assessments on these technologies instead of the quick jump to
go, “Oh my god, materials, equipment. A garage lab, oh my god, something bad is
going to happen.” And instead sort of really trying to parse
out, “Okay, what is becoming more easy? What is becoming more difficult? Because that is the issue. For example with the polio virus experiment
that part of the experiment that was difficult is still difficult today. Nothing, over 18 years, nothing has changed
to make that easier. So expertise is really key here. But even the experts understand that there
are legitimate security vulnerabilities with a rapidly advancing field like synthetic biology. The National Academies of Science released
a major report on it, with a ranked list of threat concerns. High on the list is recreating known pathogenic
viruses and making existing bacteria more dangerous, lowest is modifying the human genome
with gene drives. Some suggestions in the report involve developing
detection tools & computational approaches that can better screen for any rogue engineered
organisms. And this is exactly what Ginkgo Bioworks,
a synthetic organism factory, is working on. The goal of the Felix program is to determine
whether a piece of DNA, a sequence of DNA on a computer, is genetically engineered,
or not. IARPA has funded many different performers
across the US to take a crack at this problem. And we’re all taking very, very different
approaches. You can slice these kind of signatures of
engineering in a number of different ways. So some organisms are 80% AT. Some are 80% GC. What this means is that if you take the DNA
from different organisms, and glue them together, and you’re counting the A’s, C’s, T’s, and
G’s. Eventually, if you’re looking at DNA that’s
been glued together from disparate sources, you’ll see some major swing in those statistics. To investigate these signatures, they’re
pooling together data from their own experiments into this massive database for algorithms
to then do what they do best. We’ve developed AI’s that can manipulate all
of these different styles of genetic engineering, and generate the data for us. So far, they’ve simulated five million synthetic
genomes as a training ground for these machine learning algorithms. The main goal here is to build up a bio-security
sector, along with the advance of genetic engineering. So that, unlike in the case of cyber-security,
that we’re ready when threats actually emerge. It’s a smart way to get out front on the
issue, by leveraging the field’s advanced tools and techniques as part of the security
solution. We’re quizzed, and tested, regularly with
blind samples. There are a number of testing and evaluation
teams, which come out of the national labs. They are genetically engineering organisms
in their laboratories, sequencing them, and sending us blinded samples of all kinds of
weird natural organisms, as well as genetically engineered organisms. This happens about every seven or eight months. And we have to report back to them which data
sets have been engineered, and which ones haven’t. Initiatives like this will continue to take
shape as an industry forms around synthetic biology. Because the technology needed to recreate
and remix DNA sequences is here, and resurrecting extinct viruses in synthetic form for new
medical therapies is part of the field’s evolution. The 2002 poliovirus might have been the first,
but it won’t be the last. There are so many laboratories worldwide that
use materials and equipment for basic academic research for positive beneficial industry
related research, for clinical applications. There’s not an easy point in the life sciences
where you can say, “Well, this is weapons and it’s bad. And this is research and applications and
it’s good.” This duality goes straight to the heart of
the field, to the microbes themselves. There are millions of them in our world with
dual use, some can make us dangerously sick, and some can fight disease. It’s a wide continuum presented to us by
nature itself, and ultimately up to us to navigate through.

100 thoughts on “Engineered Viruses Are the New Biological Weapons, Here’s What You Need to Know

  1. Is this episode sponsored by Apple? lol you see an Apple computer and one guy just wearing Beats headset lol (kidding a little lol )

  2. It's ok it was researcher by DARPA.

    It's ok it is harder than it sounds.

    None of those reasons actually make it sound like it is ok.

  3. All joking aside though correct me if I'm wrong but does that mean that the impossible Whoppers synthetic biology is actually grown in bovine serum? So does that mean the impossible Whopper can't actually exist without cows? And what does not still mean that the burger contains beef?

  4. guys I understand your concerns and fears but do we always have to be worst case scenario for Everything maybe we could Genetic modification to make other nations Bioweapons useless is that enough ?

  5. So basicly we don't have to worry about someone making a super virus. Unless they are really smart and have money. No problem then I guess.

  6. This is the work being conducted in Area 51. The chinese have no regulation when it comes to immoral biological research, the US on the other hand does. Area 51 operates outside of these parameters to counter the threat.
    The base is where it is because it makes it unlikely for a containment breach to spread across the desert, no soil, limited life, no plantlife.

  7. one reason America knows so much about bioweapons is that they traded human experiment data in exchange for immunity for the Japanese who ran unit 731 in Harbin China during ww2. under a man named Shiro Ishii, the Japanese experimented on living people, men, women and children, by infecting them with a plethora of diseases such as anthrax, plague and many more. they would be infected then dissected with no anaesthesia or pain medication as to not influence the results. they also conducted other experiments such as subjecting people to subzero temperatures or pressure chambers to see what the results were and what the body could withstand until breaking point. they would also deliberately shoot people or have them tied to boards at varying distances from a bomb that was detonated. all so they could practice on gunshot and shrapnel wounds to better save their own soldiers. they also dropped ceramic bombs filled with infected fleas on unsuspecting villages nearby just to see how well the diseases would spread. the "scientists" would refer to their human test subjects as 'maruta' which loosely translated as logs, this being because the units cover story was that it was a lumber mill. most of these were Chinese people who would be rounded up and taken away never to be seen again, also there were some Russians and even American pow's used for experiments. shiro and many of the unit's members went on to hold high positions at Japanese universities and in government. this is a shameful thing for the American government as they held Joseph Mengele of Auschwitz and the nazis accountable for their experiments on humans but let the Japanese get away with it in exchange for the data

  8. Until scientists develop a humanoid with super strength, and it comes bust'in out of the lab to seek it's fortune in the da' city, I ain't worrying.

  9. The World knows Israel and Zionist traitors did 9/11 starting this fake war on terror for the Greater Israel Plan. And that Anthrax came from a U.S Bio-weapons lab. So whats the threat again ?

  10. Haaa man always creates what he is afraid of ….and this is like batman and joker or superman redson. Untill there is a challenge like batman or superman….joker and luthor would not even emerge. We are preemptively making something, imagining it would help us when threat comes in the future…it's like millions of AK 47 we manufactured for cold war…and now floating around the globe and killing people who don't even know what cold war was…lol…stupid humans.

  11. 7:25 "So that, unlike in the case of cyber-security, that we're ready when threats actually emerge"
    As a programmer, I can tell you that it may be harder than it seems

  12. I can make a super virus with $10,000 but I most likely won't it doesn't take high-tech equipment you could be even cheaper $400 but for safety reasons building needs it's about ten thousand

  13. Please make a video about the premiere of the documentary on morgellons for awareness! If you have Twitter, then you could tweet @netflix to pick up the documentary called, “Skin Deep: The Battle Over Morgellons” or tweet out to every streaming network you use. This is for anybody that sees this comment, please start doing this and do it daily!! It premieres in La in October and I am trying to spread the word to ask different streaming services to pick up this documentary because literally millions are suffering from this and don’t even know..or they do finally figure out what they have once things actually begin coming out of them, but they have to suffer in silence because if the cdc lying about the disease for the past like 4-6 decades. If you do this, I will appreciate it so much! Feel free to follow back on YouTube if you also have chronic lymes and/or Morgellons!

  14. Because globally operating, multi billion dollar terrorist organizations will try to create a pathogen in a garage and won't be able to acquire someone with in depth knowledge or even an actual expert.

    Naive, ignorant idiots.

  15. Human Viruses need a very well stocked and equipped lab to deal with. Mostly because you are working with cell cultures. So bio-engineered viruses are not going to be made on your garage. But if you get yourself a sample of a pathogen, let's say smallpox, with very little resources, you can do immense harm, no bio-engineering needed.

  16. When we find a computer virus, we patch the system so the computer is fundamentally protected from it going forward. If you think about it, a vaccine sort of does this, but as soon as a disease is eradicated, no one gets the vaccine anymore. Imagine if we destroyed all known instances of a computer virus, and then went back to manufacturing computers with the old exploitable software flaw. Maybe technology isn’t there immediately this moment, but sooner or later we will have to start fixing ourselves much more permanently.

  17. This is why Human DNA engineering is necessary. We can't stop people from doing research. We can only protect ourselves with our own research.

  18. Ah yes classic scientists, making virus-weapons instead of my plasmids and gene tonics.
    I just want to be able to charge my phone myself and start a fire with the snap of my fingers!

  19. Humanity is at a point of Fundamental change. Where we're gonna have to decide side Going backwards or going forward. If we go backwards will die. Too much of our technology has changed to become dangerous.

    If we go forward we live, But we're gonna have to change every aspect of what we are in order to live in a technologically advanced future with a planets it's going through a polar shift.

  20. Its quite funny how americans nuked Japan and are so freaked out about 9/11, this is the level of control their government has over them

  21. Bio weapons are very old as old as going to the medieval ages when during the wars the army catapulted dead infected corpses into the castle that walls withstood the invasion.
    A person doesn't have to be a genius or hi IQ quotient to see the potential .
    The terrorists can come up with an idea of injecting & infecting the people on a suiside mission and get send to a targeted country as a tourists, refugees from regions of natural disasters. People could just be used by the " Men in white " that under pretense of immunization could infect refugees with premeditation and their evil agenda in mind.
    With supperfast acting viruses like Ebola, by the time the treatment has any effect it is already too late.
    Then there is an idea of Nanotechnology microdrones that have human face recognition and can deliver the biological weapons or target a one specific individual in croud of thousands.
    It is better to be prepared for this kind of eventuality.

  22. Why are we making them?! If we use bioweapons, they will spread.
    Antibiotic resistant plauge?!!! They will destroy humanity.

  23. Westerners biased opinions about their scientific theory and religions culture and they can’t go more than 2000 years time of rap pest freaking controlling engineering culture

  24. Synthetic biology
    Also can significantly increase human life expectancy
    Therefore creating a need to make space colonies a necessity.

  25. We use the term A.I. loosely. I would say the items used in the at/gc mapping is just an algorithm running on some automation.

  26. I worked in Oncolytic Virotherapy research where we engineer viruses for anti-cancer therapy. I think the video is spreading hysteria a bit. Most of these viruses are severely attenuated and are almost definitely being harnessed for human benefit. Also, manipulating viral genomes can only work so far as they have evolved for centuries to their wild Type form making alternations difficult even for “bioterrorism.”

  27. Or they can just dig up of the dead people in green land they are affected with the Spanish flue it’s a “Free/Natural virus like the black plaque”

  28. I’m pretty sure bill gates said something similar once…

    The thing to wipe out humans is another plague.

    We are much more densely populated than before… it wouldn’t take long for an entire city to just drop dead.

  29. You guys have 4M subs, and you STILL make your titles clickbait for no reason? Your content is good in general, stop the "HERES WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW" crap its pathetic

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