Honey, why is the cat talking?
January 31, 2017 5:57 PM   Subscribe

 
I am completely fine with this.
posted by oceanjesse at 6:28 PM on January 31, 2017 [2 favorites]


With pricetags in 2014 of $50,000 and people who'd be happy to see the world burn - what's going to stop someone "printing up" smallpox?

Or just gathering something like wheat rust, cultivating and then releasing it with a manifesto that the book Wheat Belly is right and ya all should be doing paleo anyway.
posted by rough ashlar at 6:47 PM on January 31, 2017 [1 favorite]


Well, guess what? If we want the FDA to regulate the creation of glowing cats, they're going to have to stop regulating two other things like safe egg production and infant formula.
posted by justkevin at 7:02 PM on January 31, 2017 [33 favorites]


Wait until the Neolutionists get wind of this.
posted by Mikey-San at 7:22 PM on January 31, 2017 [10 favorites]


but then how is Kellyanne Conway going to get her winged monkeys
posted by um at 8:47 PM on January 31, 2017 [9 favorites]


"I am completely fine with this."

Eh, I'm not sure which part you're referring to. I, for example, agree with Ishee's point in the article:
For Ishee, the question is not whether he should be regulated. In fact, he initially reached out to the FDA voluntarily. He takes his hobby seriously, and wants to do everything possible to ensure that his science is ethical, lawful and safe. Instead, Ishee is concerned that rules designed without a growing contingent of DIY biology enthusiasts in mind will be so taxing that they render newly accessible science once again inaccessible to everyone without a fancy degree and a high-end lab.
This ties in with what I've heard about the whole magnet implant thing and that is that there are no regulations covering elective enhancement surgery. That's what what I call surgery designed to not to fix a problem or alter a look but to give extra features to a human being. I don't know if that's the right term but I'll find that out later. Doctors can't give anesthesia to people getting magnet implants and doctors also can't really do the implant surgery without fear of getting sued or losing their license since, as far as I know, there's no regulation guiding them in what they can or can't do. So regulation is needed but it should involve the common DIYers people since they're the ones being affected the most. Creating a regulatory environment that favours only multinational corporations not only cuts out your every day researchers but also eventually leads to semi-monopoly control of industries by those who can afford it. And this leads to a slowdown in science since the large corporations will only pursue products with a large profit margin in order to stay profitable and competitive.
posted by I-baLL at 9:03 PM on January 31, 2017 [1 favorite]


This ties in with what I've heard about the whole magnet implant thing and that is that there are no regulations covering elective enhancement surgery. That's what what I call surgery designed to not to fix a problem or alter a look but to give extra features to a human being. I don't know if that's the right term but I'll find that out later. Doctors can't give anesthesia to people getting magnet implants and doctors also can't really do the implant surgery without fear of getting sued or losing their license since, as far as I know, there's no regulation guiding them in what they can or can't do. So regulation is needed but it should involve the common DIYers people since they're the ones being affected the most. Creating a regulatory environment that favours only multinational corporations not only cuts out your every day researchers but also eventually leads to semi-monopoly control of industries by those who can afford it. And this leads to a slowdown in science since the large corporations will only pursue products with a large profit margin in order to stay profitable and competitive.

In fairness, that regulation is also why medical products aren't cheaply made crap with an unexpectedly high level of heavy metals.
posted by jaduncan at 2:04 AM on February 1, 2017 [8 favorites]


I forget which science fiction novel but "enhancements" were common from sensory enhancements to allow spaceship piloting to horrors for fighting, but the cool nugget I wanted instantly was a cute little dragon connected to the shoulder that could even spit a bit of fire with practice.

Unregulated dragon "3d tattoos" are fine with me.
posted by sammyo at 3:51 AM on February 1, 2017


"In fairness, that regulation is also why medical products aren't cheaply made crap with an unexpectedly high level of heavy metals."

That regulation? Which regulation are you talking about since nothing in my quoted comment mentions any regulation dealing with that and my biggest point was an absence of regulation negatively affecting DIY research (the anesthesia for implants thing)?
posted by I-baLL at 8:10 AM on February 1, 2017


Conventional breeding strategies for getting rid of undesirable traits in thoroughbred champion dogs involves killing dozens and dozens of dogs across several generations when the trait is recessive (I had a genetics teacher who was involved in cleaning up the Malamute breed's hip dysplasia problem in a championship line. They breed the dogs and then went back and killed/sterilized the dogs with the bad gene/genes).

Gene mods seem much more humane.
posted by srboisvert at 9:46 AM on February 1, 2017 [2 favorites]


"With pricetags in 2014 of $50,000 and people who'd be happy to see the world burn - what's going to stop someone "printing up" smallpox?"
We're on top of this. When smallpox was first sequenced it had already been eradicated in the wild, and so anticipating the day when its sequence could be synthesized, a couple of additional hurdles involved in its replication that I won't discuss are overcome, and it can be productively electroporated into competent human cell lines - the sequence was never made public. There is a complex way for researchers to access parts of the sequence, but there are still a lot of very large hurdles to this, both technical and related to the men in black suits who would come knocking at the door of anyone shitty enough to try.
"Or just gathering something like wheat rust, cultivating and then releasing it with a manifesto that the book Wheat Belly is right and ya all should be doing paleo anyway."
All of the most terrifying things made by man, save perhaps nuclear weapons, were perfected in the 70s using biological techniques that are well more than a century old. While genetic engineering is currently incredibly useful for a lot of things, and has amazing potential to do quite a bit more, it is ultimately not a particularly useful tool for the development of pathogens. The things that make pathogens successful on a genetic level cannot really be rationally designed anywhere near as well as nature designs those molecular tools with evolution. "Bio-hackers" today would not have that many relevant advantages over similarly minded hobbyists generations ago when weapons development was a international priority, and getting away with it would in many ways be a lot harder. There very much are things we should respect the hell out of with respect to biological weapons development by individuals and particularly organizations, but those things haven't really changed as much as you'd think in almost fifty years and can not actually expected to change that much more in the foreseeable future.
posted by Blasdelb at 10:24 AM on February 1, 2017 [4 favorites]


but then how is Kellyanne Conway going to get her winged monkeys

Don't be silly. Ms. Conway considers us -all- her winged monkeys.
posted by Archelaus at 11:23 AM on February 1, 2017 [1 favorite]


In my hierarchy of things that are terrifying for civilization, anything self-replicating goes to the top of the list. Then, within that self-replicating category I look for things that can be created by small groups of dedicated individuals with relatively limited resources. This very small segment is what scares me more than anything. More than climate change, more than the risk of nukes, way more than economic collapse or authoritarianism, biological weapons created by underground groups using the latest breakthroughs are terrifying to me. That isn't to say your garden variety genetic engineering accident that eliminates a staple crop or disrupts an ecosystem isn't pretty damn scary. Just think for a few minutes what a group like Aum Shinrikyo could do if they had the same resources (money, smart people, unifying death cult ideology, time) and the genetic engineering knowledge and technology that will be available in 2025 or 2040.

I recognize all the wonderful advantages that will come from this field, and there are many, and that 99%+ of the work done by genetic engineers is meant to make the world a better place. However, it will only take one well designed intentionally engineered bioweapon created by a death cult to massively impact humanity everywhere. I'm sure genetic engineers will say there are barriers and that everyone is acting in good faith, but if you create a widely shared knowledge that would give 50,000 very smart people godlike powers to manipulate the genetic foundations of life, are you sure that not a single one will go pure evil with this power due to anger, suicidal impulses, revenge fantasies, megalomania, or just curiosity. The downside potential of lack of extremely strict control in the genetic engineering realm is so overwhelmingly massive that it is larger than the fantastically large upside potential.

So, I'm hoping desperately Blasdelb is completely correct and I'm wishing there would be even more regulation and control globally in this area.
posted by SeanOfTheHillPeople at 12:18 PM on February 1, 2017 [4 favorites]


This seems pretty justified. The great thing about the FDA is that they're not actually preventing or regulating the actual gene modification process. Go nuts. The FDA only comes in if you want to sell the end result. I think it's legitimate to require additional vetting when something becomes a commercial product.

In that light, the actual issue here doesn't seem that novel. Small producers have been complaining about FDA regulations aimed at large producers for years, and that can be a real problem but it's not a new one and it doesn't have much to do with genetic engineering, really.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 2:56 PM on February 1, 2017 [1 favorite]


There very much are things we should respect the hell out of with respect to biological weapons development by individuals and particularly organizations, but those things haven't really changed as much as you'd think in almost fifty years and can not actually expected to change that much more in the foreseeable future.

The big things that have changed are literacy and ease of access.

50 years ago computers were huge machines in air conditioned rooms and no one had any idea just how complex and ubiquitous they would become. Every day, you probably do something that no one imagined 50 years ago. (Well Arthur C. Clarke, but no one else)

Five years ago my niece was using plasmids to insert GFP into bacteria as a sophomore in a high school, and I felt exactly the same way my parents must have felt about my adolescent computer time. A generation that is literate in genetics is coming up, and that many fresh young minds are going to push the boundaries in ways we currently have no clue about.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 3:57 PM on February 1, 2017 [1 favorite]


That regulation? Which regulation are you talking about since nothing in my quoted comment mentions any regulation dealing with that and my biggest point was an absence of regulation negatively affecting DIY research (the anesthesia for implants thing)?

"Creating a regulatory environment that favours only multinational corporations not only cuts out your every day researchers but also eventually leads to semi-monopoly control of industries by those who can afford it. And this leads to a slowdown in science since the large corporations will only pursue products with a large profit margin in order to stay profitable and competitive."

There are benefits in the medical field in particular to relatively intense regulation, even when that may exclude small participants without the money for human trials etc out of the market. Indeed, 'some people' might think the requirment for extensive testing is a feature rather than a bug.

And yes, of course doctors won't get involved in non-regulated stuff. It's almost like they also think it could have unknown risks for the patient and thus to them via litigation. I take this view even though I personally want a set of electrodes implants to stimulate my brain's pleasure centers at will. I'm just aware it's probably good that I can't just start selling that and have doctors do that to people in the wider market; it's almost like medicine is complex enough that information assymetry offers a chance for what I shall inevitably but non-coincidentally call snake oil hucksters with no concern for the end user.
posted by jaduncan at 7:18 PM on February 1, 2017 [1 favorite]


safe egg production

You might want to have another look at that one.
posted by sneebler at 7:11 AM on February 2, 2017


the [smallpox] sequence was never made public. There is a complex way for researchers to access parts of the sequence, but there are still a lot of very large hurdles to this

I think you're mistaken here. ViPR has a compilation of links to quite a few apparently complete genome sequences, all in the region of 187kb which is about what it should be. Certainly their Genbank records list them as "Complete Genome" (e.g.).

There is, however, a commonly used algorithm/database called "blackwatch" that (many? all?) DNA synthesis companies use to screen sequences over a certain length that they're manufacturing for clients. At least in principle, ordering biggish chunks of certain pathogens' genomes will get you noticed by people without a sense of humour about these things.* Shorter sequences aren't screened (the Guardian got excitable about having ordered about 80bp -- 0.3%ish -- of the smallpox genome a few years back, IIRC), but the idea is to push the cost and difficulty of assembling the desired genome from sequences small enough to be ordered above the cost of buying and running your own synthesis setup. Which, as mentioned above, is rapidly becoming cheaper.

Casual googling hasn't brought up any information about the regulations around blackwatch -- which countries require it, whether its use is audited, etc. I'd be interested, if anyone happens to know. But I feel like I'm already pushing at the limits of what my employers -- a biotech firm who get an awful lot of novel sequences synthesised -- would want coming out of their IP address, so I won't look it up for the moment :p.

I definitely agree that evolution -- including directed evolution, growing pathogens with selective pressures intended to make them more weaponisable -- is a much more powerful tool than any of the really clever molecular genetics we have access to at the moment. Heck, a year or two ago a Dutch influenza group got into the news for developing an airborne version of the H5N1 flu virus, which they did by serially infecting ferrets. Anyone with a sample of infected mucous and a sack of ferrets could do something similar, given determination and a bit of luck. I do expect cheap DIY DNA synthesis to be added to the list of terrorism concerns within my lifetime, but there's already a decent amount of harm that a semi-competent biologist could do if they really set their mind to it, and somehow it keeps (mostly) not happening anyway.

*A couple of possible ways to defeat this spring to mind, but if they're obvious to me they're also obvious to the people who set up the database. You'd hope.
posted by metaBugs at 9:30 AM on February 2, 2017 [2 favorites]


Per vibratory manner of working, the cutoff is when you try to make a profit. That is not too restrictive.

There's a more sensible form of regulation somewhere but until then you might as well remove the blatant incentive for irresponsible experimentation. This is definitely a case of making sure the perfect isn't the enemy of the barely adequate.

(And yes, the incompetent or irresponsible DIY engineer can cause a lot more harm with an individual experiment than a breeder can with a single pregnancy.)
posted by mark k at 11:56 PM on February 2, 2017


(And yes, the incompetent or irresponsible DIY engineer can cause a lot more harm with an individual experiment than a breeder can with a single pregnancy.)

I was going to say. Robert Morris took down a large portion of the internet because he wanted to try something and made a small mistake.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 5:45 PM on February 3, 2017


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