April 8, 2020
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It’s Christmas Eve, 2019. All is quiet, all is still- except in the
skies above Earth. High in orbit over our planet, giant spaceships
full of brain-eating aliens loom over our helpless world. The Zeti Reticulians are finally here, and
they’ve come to harvest a bounty in delicious human brains. But the war for our planet doesn’t start with
a bang, it starts with… nothing. The evil alien ships simply hover in orbit,
silent and completely out of the reach of our weapons. They make no demands, take no hostile action
against us. Just… sit there. All attempts to communicate with the aliens
are ignored, and after the initial terror subsides, over the course of the new year
humanity gradually becomes accustomed to their presence. Then it happens, eight months after their
arrival. An elderly woman develops a cough and a fever. She assumes she has the flu and so largely
ignores it, but her symptoms begin to grow- she experiences nausea and body aches, her
head swims, and she is having bouts of loss of consciousness. As she checks herself into an emergency room,
across the country a teenage boy comes down with the same symptoms. Doctors are at a loss to explain what is wrong
with the old woman, and later in the day doctors on the other side of the nation are equally
baffled by the strange symptoms of the teenage boy. The next day there are five more victims. A week later, there are a thousand more. The United States military sends bio-experts
and quarantines emergency rooms across the country- something is affecting humanity,
and it’s clear that whatever is going on, this is just the tip of the iceberg. The Zeti Reticulians have finally launched
their attack. Except they launched their attack almost a
year ago when they first arrived. Tiny soda-can sized containers were dropped
from orbit all around the world. Small enough to be mistaken for meteorites
by ground-based space monitoring radar, they never raised suspicion amongst the world’s
militaries. But upon entering the atmosphere the small
containers released a fine mist- a genetically engineered synthetic virus, perfectly constructed
to attack human DNA. The synthetic virus gradually spread across
the world, and slowly went to work on our genetic makeup, directly manipulating and
changing the DNA of each host it infected. It was programmed to work slowly, so as to
do most of its damage before being discovered… before humanity could realize it was under
attack and develop a cure. Now, it’s too late. The synthetic virus has been altering human
DNA for nearly a year, and now it activates specific proteins to create physical changes
in our bodies. Our brains grow to five times their normal
size, far too big for our slender necks to support them. Humanity keels over, unable to pick themselves
up due to the weight of our massive brains- which unfortunately are only physically larger,
and not more intelligent. Then, with a buffet of helpless, delicious,
engorged brains waiting for them, the Zeti Reticulians finally descend from space, and
begin to feast. The previous scenario is clearly science fiction,
and merely an example of one of the many ways that an alien intelligence far ahead of our
own technological progress could invade the earth and conquer us without ever firing a
shot. Except in this scenario, one where the aliens
use a synthetic bioweapon to cripple humanity, the technology needed for this global apocalypse
is very much already in human hands- or at least nearly so. The United States military prides itself on
being the premier fighting force on the planet, and regularly invests into brainstorming new,
possible threats and how to counter them before they even appear. In 2018, the Department of Defense turned
its attention towards a new, and very realistic future threat- the threat of synthetic biology. Synthetic biology is nothing more than the
development of techniques to artificially manipulate existing biology. This can range from the creation of artificial
viruses, to directly manipulating how biology operates within a living host. Both of these applications have incredible
promises for making the world a far, far better place. An artificial virus for example could be programmed
to heal genetic damage, reversing the effects of radiation poisoning and even curing, or
outright preventing cancer. It could even be programmed to attack other
viruses, a sort of magic-bullet that one could be injected in to seek out and destroy other
malicious viruses. Manipulating how our own biology works, or
that of an animal, would mean that we could potentially ‘hack’ our bodies to produce more
nutritious milk for babies, helping fight infant malnourishment in impoverished areas. We could hack ourselves to heal faster from
wounds, or create clotting agents that work much more rapidly to help seal major bleeding
faster. Synthetic biology is basically like turning
on hacks in a video game, and it could bring a giant revolution in the human condition
where disease, cancer, and even aging are all things of the past. Like many things though, it also has a much,
much darker side. Those same tools could be used to directly
attack humanity, and the results of such an attack could be absolutely devastating. A synthetic virus could for example, be programmed
to attack our DNA, much like in our opening scenario. Potentially, such a virus could alter our
DNA completely, causing untold changes in our bodies- or it could simply be programmed
to cause damage to it, resulting in an explosion of cancer across the population. Normal viruses and bacteria could be hacked
so as to overcome our current resistances to them, or become resistant to our medical
treatments. The measles for example could be hacked from
within to become resistant to our vaccines- although to be honest anti-vaxxers are already
doing a good job of ruining our future by refusing to vaccinate. The common cold though, a ubiquitous virus
that affects almost all of humanity, could be hacked to cause far more severe symptoms
in sufferers. A common cold virus could be given traits
from the AIDS virus, resulting in a highly communicable disease that spreads via coughing
and destroys the immune system of anyone infected. Our own biological processes could be hacked
from within- in 2014 outlets around the world ran the story of Matthew Hogg, a man who’s
own body turns sugars and carbohydrates he ingests into ethanol. This means that he can produce alcohol from
something as simple as a sandwich, or from drinking a coke, and is very often drunk because
of it. While this may sound awesome for anyone who
hasn’t grown out of the frat boy stage, the reality is that this condition has ruined
Hogg’s life- and the United States military is worried that terrorists could hack all
of us to create the same effect, bringing entire nations, if not the world, to its knees. For the US and other governments facing terror
threats- which is pretty much everyone at this point- the threat is very real. New gene-editing techniques such as CRISPR
have made it possible for even do-it-yourself biologists at home to tinker with editing
genes. CRISPR is actually shorthand for CRISPR-Cas9,
and CRISPRs are actually specialized stretches of DNA. Cas9 is an enzyme that scientists have learned
to use as a sort of molecular scissors, and can cut strands of DNA in a way that lets
researchers edit DNA as they see fit. CRISPR technology was adapted from the natural
defense mechanisms of bacteria and single-celled organisms. By using RNa and various different types of
Cas proteins, these organisms fight back against invading viruses by destroying the DNA of
the attacker, which is actually a pretty metal thing to do. Each CAS protein targets a different segment
of DNA, and gets to work severing the virus’s strands of DNA. In human and animal applications, scientists
simply ‘tag’ specific portions of DNA they want to snip out and let loose a Cas
protein to scissor it free. The DNA of an organism can thus be edited,
and manipulated in ways that science doesn’t fully understand yet. As the basic building block of all biology
though, editing an organism’s DNA is going to have profound consequences for its behavior,
or its very biology. The propagation of such a powerful technology
has thus created a terrifying possibility for global governments- what if terrorists
used synthetic biology to create bio superweapons? There would be little if any defense against
such a weapon, and an attack would be all but impossible to detect. Vaccines to synthetic viruses could take years
to develop, if any is developable at all, and by then the damage would be done. The good news, if there is any in this story,
is that these threats are still a few years away from being realistic- though nobody denies
that in time, they will be a certainty. Right now though there are several barriers
to terrorists seeking to create a bio weapon which are simply insurmountable. Firstly, synthetic biology is not as easy
as alarmist reports would make it seem. Yes, the powerful gene-editing tool CRISPR
makes it easier for do-it-yourself biologists to tinker with biology, but the barrier to
successfully creating a working artificial virus requires a significant amount of technical
expertise and resources both. Currently it takes the full-time resources
of entire international companies to even begin to probe the secrets of gene-editing,
and they are still very far away from any true breakthroughs. Without such expertise and resources, it’s
incredibly unlikely a terrorist would be able to create a working bio-weapon, at least yet. As with many technologies, the future could
make such a development easier to accomplish, and the propagation of knowledge will bring
the needed technical expertise to gifted individuals. It’s still unlikely that a terror group could
carry out a successful bio-terror attack on a large scale. Simply put, biology is very difficult to control,
and any synthetic weapon would then have to face a slew of different factors when released
into the general population. Everybody’s personal biology is just a little
different from each other, the virus would have to react to a population that is in varying
levels of health, and have their own small genetic mutations. Then there’s the response by the medical community,
and in effect a terrorist would be pitting their bio weapon against the combined weight
of the global medical community’s expertise. While unlikely, such an attack is not impossible,
and we should definitely not be resting on our laurels believing ourselves to be safe. Prior to September 11th, 2001, only a handful
of people in the United States- which were all ignored by the authorities- believed that
any group of terrorists could launch a decisive, major terror attack targeting numerous American
cities at once. Then Al-Qaeda struck, killing thousands, and
causing billions in economic damage to the nation. The intents and capabilities of extremists
should never be underestimated, and while the current threat of a major bio-terror attack
with an unstoppable germ or virus is extremely negligible, it doesn’t mean that it will always
be so. We still have a few years to go before terrorists
would be capable of launching such an attack. Right now it’s unfeasible, almost ridiculous
to think that a group of self-funded terrorists could have the budget, equipment, and technical
expertise to create a synthetic plague to devastate mankind with, as it takes international
companies millions of dollars to make the smallest breakthroughs in the field of gene
editing. However, the future is one great big unknown,
and there’s simply no knowing just how easy a future technology could make gene editing. Perhaps in the future you’ll be able to
hack yourself with some DIY genetic engineering and a few thousand dollars, no different than
consumers hack their own phones, cars, and other electronic items for convenience. The best we can do is work to regulate these
dangerous technologies, and try to find a way to stamp out the root cause of terrorism
before it can become a true global threat. Do you think the world is ready for a major
bio-terror attack? Tell us in the comments! Now go watch Weapons So Terrible They Had
To Be Banned From War. As always if you enjoyed this video then Like,
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Tony wyaad