Possible Applications of Advanced Biotechnology
Modern biotechnology is a double-edged sword, capable of healing and harming in equal measure
A New Era in Medicine
Studying COVID-19 and the circumstances surrounding it has opened my eyes to a stark reality. Mankind is on the verge of a sea change in how medicine is practiced, as new innovations in bionanotechnology and designer molecular medicine make their way from laboratories and into hospitals and pharmacies.
All life forms function on the same general set of principles. Genes are stored as DNA. DNA makes RNA. RNA makes proteins. Proteins fit together like Tetris pieces, or LEGO bricks.
All of this is so unbelievably tiny - absolutely imperceptible without scanning electron microscopes and Monte Carlo simulations of molecular behavior, among other analytical techniques - and yet, it is ubiquitous and universal to all life forms on Earth.
In the past few decades, many key advancements in molecular biology have been made, such as modeling the folding and behavior of proteins using supercomputers and distributed computing platforms. Soon, rapid advancements in computational power, big data, and neural networks will enable highly advanced probabilistic modeling of protein behavior, allowing for whole synthetic proteins with novel functions not found in nature to be designed and tested in silico before being turned into gene sequences, synthesized by bacteria in bioreactors, and then injected into people’s bodies.
Protein-based biologics have many advantages, but also, many drawbacks. The human immune system is very hostile to any sort of protein that looks non-human. Biologists and immunologists have spent years studying ways to shield biologics from immune responses, “cloaking” them from the body, but with little success.
FDA - Immunogenicity of Protein-based Therapeutics
A major problem with protein-based therapeutics is their immunogenicity, that is, their tendency to trigger an unwanted immune response against themselves. One form of immune response is activation of B cells, which produce antibodies that bind to the proteins and reduce or eliminate their therapeutic effects. Such antibodies can also cause complications that can be life-threatening. Therefore, a critical part of determining the clinical safety and efficacy of protein-based therapeutic products is measuring their tendency to trigger antibody formation.
Other methods, such as targeting unwanted substances in the body (such as excess inflammatory cytokines in autoimmune and inflammatory diseases) using monoclonal antibodies, like Humira, have been more successful, but still have a high rate of adverse effects.
Biologic Medications are Causing Widespread Adverse Events
Amid the reports of injury and death, the FDA has long had concerns about the safety of biologics. In the last 20 years, the agency has released a couple dozen warnings and safety communications. The hope is that these warnings would give the public the information they need to make an educated decision about using biologic medications. Among the FDA warnings were concerns about:
A rare viral brain infection
Lymphoma and other cancers
Suppressing the immune system to prevent rheumatoid arthritis is risky. Immunosuppression can relieve a patient’s suffering from inflammatory disorders, but it can also lead to opportunistic bacterial and fungal infections, or reduced immune surveillance of tumors and subsequent cancer. When you send monoclonal antibodies after a substance in the body, you are essentially directing the immune system to delete that molecule.
Tumor necrosis factor alpha, the target of Humira, is an inflammatory cytokine that, true to its name, helps fight infection and cancer. Destroying excess TNF-alpha has benefits for patients with RA, but also, drawbacks.
This is just one example. There are many, many ways to alter the behavior of cells with bionanotechnology and molecular medicine. When you’re playing around with the stuff of life itself, the sky is the limit.
In-vivo biosynthesis of novel structures, including synthetic receptors, cells or organelles not found in nature.
Destroying unwanted biomolecules with monoclonal antibodies (like in the above example).
Using Small Interfering RNA to destroy mRNA associated with a specific gene, achieving, in effect, the temporary “silencing” of that gene without having to manipulate nuclear DNA directly.
Using nanoparticles to deliver drugs and gene therapy to cells, delivering mRNA, plasmids and CRISPR, etc.
Using conductive nanoparticles to perform assays on cells and manipulate their behavior, or to pass information to digital encoders that can repeat a signal to other cells, et cetera.
Eventually, in conjunction with all of the aforementioned things, in-vivo biocomputers, including “cyber-polymerases” capable of externally-directed in-vivo synthesis of any arbitrary nucleic acid sequence (to include such things as designer receptors and their ligands, constructing synthetic cells and organelles, et cetera), although this is somewhat more hypothetical and pie-in-the-sky.
This is nothing close to a comprehensive list of possible methods for bionanotechnology and molecular medicine. The potential applications are endless, and many of these things cross the line from mere medicine into transhuman territory and human enhancement.
Curing autoimmune diseases like RA and lupus with designer immunomodulatory therapy.
Targeting and destroying tumors without harming healthy tissues.
Treating highly treatment-resistant neurological and mental issues, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, dementia, schizophrenia, paralysis, blindness, neuropathy, etc.
Inhibiting all viral replication completely and totally by targeting and destroying viral genomes using novel biomolecules.
Treating congenital disorders by making edits to embryos in-utero to prevent, for instance, fatal familial insomnia, harlequin ichthyosis, etc.
Regenerative medicine and anti-aging therapies.
Enhancing human ability in all aspects, improving stamina and muscle recovery, improving bone density and muscle strength, improving eyesight, increasing intelligence, empathy, creativity, etc.
Direct neural interfaces allowing for unparalleled fidelity in communications, entertainment, drone control, and so forth.
However, this rapid advancement is a double-edged sword. There are many potential malicious uses of cutting-edge biotechnologies, many of which pertain to the militarization of such tech and its employment in warfare and mass social conditioning.
These potential malicious uses include:
Invasion of privacy by the authorities, monitoring human activity, tracking individuals and collecting their health data, funneling it into privately-owned data centers.
Manipulating people’s biometric and health data to interfere with their employment, ability to travel, etc.
Manipulating neuronal activity (using nanoparticles, DREADDs, and so forth) to rob people of agency and autonomy by altering cognition and affective states (as described in our previous articles on next-gen mind control), thus manipulating human social behavior on a large scale and turning people into an engineered product.
As a corollary to this, manipulating the minds of soldiers to make them utterly insensitive to killing and/or mentally incapable of orchestrating a coup in the event they are called upon to enforce tyranny.
Menticide by this method also goes hand-in-hand with chattel slavery; imagine what could be done to people if they remained perfectly obedient no matter how badly they were treated.
Brain-to-brain hijacking (i.e. feeding neuronal activity from one brain into another brain to allow for direct control of people’s bodies), effectively “biodroning” people.
Non-state actors stealing or tampering with brain and biometric data, or hacking neural interfaces to incapacitate people.
Gene manipulation to induce chronic illness, sterility, or make one’s body more susceptible to manipulation by an attacker, or to create genetic susceptibility to targeted bioweapons, or to manipulate people’s biochemistry and hormonal makeup.
Surreptitious germline edits to induce chronic illness, sterility, or undesirable phenotypical variations in someone’s offspring.
Gene manipulation to alter the legal status of someone’s body, or that of their offspring (i.e. reducing a human to a patented GMO product).
Use of in-vivo biocomputers and cyber-polymerases to construct nucleic acid sequences for the assembly of viruses, prions, or other pathogens inside victims remotely, creating a patient zero for a novel bioweapon anywhere, at any time, without the ability to trace its origin or attribute it to a hostile actor.
This, again, is not a comprehensive list.
There are a very tiny handful of bioethicists who understand the implications of the widespread use (and eventual militarization) of synthetic biology, bionanotechnology and novel neurotechnology, and there are very few regulators who understand the nature of the grave threat to human dignity and autonomy posed by these technologies and are willing to champion human rights and fight back against depraved uses of such tech.
We’ve got to talk: The militarization of biotechnology
Debate about the security implications of cutting-edge biotechnology is afflicted with a fundamental blind spot—a lack of attention to growing military interest in the field. This blind spot is evident in discussions about, for example, gene-editing technology (in relation both to gene drives and to human modification). Such debate has tended to focus on the idea that research and technology might be directly misused by “the bad guys”—and has tended to ignore broader questions about how the ongoing militarization of cutting-edge fields in biology might contribute to insecurity.
Last year James Clapper, when he was US director of national intelligence, labelled emerging population-level genetic-modification techniques as potential weapons of mass destruction. A number of states, in the context of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, have in recent years voiced concerns about state investment into biotechnology. Yet ethical reviews of gene editing to date in the United States have barely touched upon concerns about growing military interest in cutting-edge biotech—as reflected in their absence from recent reports on both environmental and human modification biotechnology. Such omissions are in keeping with broad trends where US discussions about the potential for misusing biotechnology are concerned.
To be sure, the risk that benignly intended innovations might be directly misused by terrorists is a legitimate, if often overblown, security concern. But other issues merit concern as well. One such issue is the risk that military investment in biotechnology will adversely affect research priorities. Another is the possibility that military investment into defensive or public health projects by one state might be misinterpreted by other states as having offensive potential.
Scientists working for the pharmaceutical industry and military think tanks are forging ahead without any regard for the consequences. Too few people are sounding the alarm, because very few people can see that there is cause for alarm in the first place.
There is a shocking lack of regulatory oversight in the implementation of these technologies for two simple reasons. One of those reasons is, quite plainly, regulatory capture. Private companies attempting to capture regulators will do more than bribe them. They will actually onboard them and indoctrinate them in corporate culture and customs, such that the very things that the regulators are supposed to be hostile to are normalized.
Investopedia - Regulatory Capture
Regulatory capture, also known as “the economic theory of regulation” or simply “capture theory,” was introduced to the world in the 1970s by the late George Stigler, a Nobel laureate economist at the University of Chicago. Stigler noted that regulated industries maintain a keen and immediate interest in influencing regulators, whereas ordinary citizens are less motivated. As a result, even though the rules in question, such as pollution standards, often affect citizens in the aggregate, individuals are unlikely to lobby regulators to the degree that regulated industries do.
Regulated industries devote large budgets to influencing regulators at federal, state, and local levels. By contrast, individual citizens spend only limited resources to advocate for their own rights. This is an extension of the concept of concentrated benefits and dispersed costs of regulation, public policy, and collective action in general, described by economist Mancur Olsen.
In many cases, the regulators themselves come from the pool of industry experts and employees, in part due to the complex and specialized knowledge needed to regulate an industry, and may also then return to work in the industry after their government service. This is known as the revolving door between government and special interests. In some cases, industry leaders trade the promise of future jobs for regulatory consideration, making revolving doors criminally corrupt.
The second reason is actually elucidated in the last quoted paragraph; the need for regulators to obtain expert knowledge in order to regulate the industries that they’re assigned to. These two things are intertwined. In order to obtain expertise, one often has to get cozy with industry insiders, or actually come from the industry itself; that is, the so-called “revolving door” between business and government.
During the controversy surrounding the COVID-19 vaccines, a lot of people correctly pointed out that Scott Gottlieb left the FDA and went to work for Pfizer, but this sort of revolving-door activity is actually very, very common.
Tech Transparency Project - Google's Revolving Door (US)
The Google Transparency Project has so far identified 258 instances of “revolving door” activity (involving 251 individuals) between Google or related firms, and the federal government, national political campaigns and Congress during President Obama’s time in office.
There is, however, another problem in the second category, one that often goes overlooked: the increasing difficulty of obtaining accurate knowledge about regulated industries as those industries become more technologically sophisticated and complex. There are a lot of politicians and regulators these days who have no earthly idea what they’re looking at when they try and regulate science and technology. This is how we end up with absurd gaffes like former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens’ gut-bustingly hilarious commentary on internet bandwidth saturation:
It’s not quite as funny, however, when someone who’s supposed to be regulating medicine mumbles something about how people’s blood vessels are a series of tubes.
This is, of course, why we have this situation with governments full of drooling incompetents being pushed around by technocrats. The technocrats actually do know exactly what they’re doing, and, in the aggregate, have considerable knowledge about all the arcane specifics of cutting-edge science and technology.
If there is one thing that Klaus Schwab is correct about in his books, we do, in fact, live in an era of unprecedented complexity. In seventy years, we’ve gone from vacuum tube computers to super-miniaturized microprocessors. You’re probably reading this on a phone, tablet, laptop, or desktop PC right now. Can you name every individual electronic component in that device and its function and purpose? No? Then why would you expect an elderly politician who fried his brain on cocaine and strippers thirty years ago to know anything about nano-medicine?
Politics and the law have fallen far, far behind the industries they are supposed to regulate, and to a shocking degree. Private industry could get away with literally whatever they wanted to, at this point. They just injected barely-tested gene and cell therapy drugs into billions of people without any oversight at all, and without any liability if something were to go wrong. What does that tell you?
We have entered into an era of unregulated advancement. The pace of technological progress is so fast and the corruption and lackadaisical attitudes in government so pervasive, traditional institutions simply cannot keep up. They don’t know what they don’t know. One can’t conduct contingency planning to deal with situations that never even crossed their mind in the first place. This regulatory gap allows organizations on the cutting edge of science and technology to act with impunity. From the perspective of most people, today’s technologists may as well be wizards waving magic wands.
These unaccountable private firms and their bureaucratic enablers benefit immensely from public ignorance and apathy. At this crucial juncture, we cannot afford to be mushrooms, kept in the dark and fed excrement. The public and regulators need to know exactly what we’re dealing with, and we must be vigilant and reckon with the potential consequences of novel technologies being abused by malicious actors, including our own governments.
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Because this technology is powerful, it can potentially tip the balance of power between mega-corporations and states. As such, militaries will have a vested interest in advancing and controlling this new power. Other governments will observe this and make necessary investments of their own. An unregulated bio-technology arms race is already underway, beyond sight, or understanding. I for one have zero confidence that this will be used for the betterment of humanity. Without checks, it will be used for the consolidation of power, wealth, influence, and the social/cultural values of those who wield it. Given how the powerful have governed in the uni-polar moment of the last 30 years, I am gravely concerned for how this power will be used in the next 30 years of great power competition.
Nice piece, but do think you far to kind to the "cutting edge" scientists and geneticists.
What's the quote, "Don't fear the best swordsman, a master knows what he will do, and the consequences. Fear the novice swordsman- nobody knows what he'll do, and neither does he."...something like that.
I feel that everyone and especially the 'expert's are giving them selves far too much credit for being so smart😐🙄
I mean a child can pull something apart, and a clock is right 2x a day. Neither of which are qualified to pull apart the intracasies of quantum biology/physics.
Mostly because egos won't let them.