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The Weaponization of Biotech
The unregulated advancement of biotech is creating a new arms race and threatening our personal autonomy
After our previous article on this topic, I was asked by someone off-site to cite specific examples of biotechnology that could be misused for nefarious purposes, or could have utility as clandestine military or intelligence tools. It was a fair criticism. I listed off a number of technologies that could have such uses, but did not cite any specific articles to make my case. This article will address that deficiency.
The key thing to keep in mind is that cutting-edge biotech poses a tremendous risk both to human dignity, precisely because the products of today’s biotechnology are not like old-school biowarfare agents like smallpox, for which treaties already exist that ban their usage in warfare. There are technologies being investigated, right now, that could form the basis of novel biological agents for which no treaty exists that restricts their use. This creates a new, unaddressed arms race and proliferation risk.
Article I of the Biological Weapons Convention reads as follows:
Each State Party to this Convention undertakes never in any circumstances to develop, produce, stockpile or otherwise acquire or retain:
(1) microbial or other biological agents, or toxins whatever their origin or method of production, of types and in quantities that have no justification for prophylactic, protective or other peaceful purposes;
(2) weapons, equipment or means of delivery designed to use such agents or toxins for hostile purposes or in armed conflict.
This is extremely vague, but is generally taken to mean a prohibition on the usage of things like smallpox, Ebola, anthrax, botulinum toxin, and similar agents in warfare.
Dr. Robert Malone had a rather insightful article recently where he pointed out, correctly, that the stipulation “for hostile purposes” essentially creates a loophole, where biological weapons can be legally researched for defensive purposes.
Consider this: what qualifies as a microbial or biological agent, or toxin? What qualifies as hostile purposes? What if the agent does not kill, injure, or disfigure, but manipulates human behavior? What if the agent is so subtle, it cannot be readily detected or attributed to a hostile actor?
There are many recent breakthroughs in biotech that have beneficial therapeutic effects if used in medicine, and therefore plenty of “justification for prophylactic, protective, or other peaceful purposes”. However, they are also a double-edged sword. The same gene therapy tools that could cure one person’s cancer could give cancer to someone else.
Now, let’s take a look at the Chemical Weapons Convention (note, Substack mangles the subparagraphs designated by letters, converting them into strictly numbered lists; please see the source site for an accurate reference):
Each State Party to this Convention undertakes never under any circumstances:
To develop, produce, otherwise acquire, stockpile or retain chemical weapons, or transfer, directly or indirectly, chemical weapons to anyone;
To use chemical weapons;
To engage in any military preparations to use chemical weapons;
To assist, encourage or induce, in any way, anyone to engage in any activity prohibited to a State Party under this Convention.
Each State Party undertakes to destroy chemical weapons it owns or possesses, or that are located in any place under its jurisdiction or control, in accordance with the provisions of this Convention.
Each State Party undertakes to destroy all chemical weapons it abandoned on the territory of another State Party, in accordance with the provisions of this Convention.
Each State Party undertakes to destroy any chemical weapons production facilities it owns or possesses, or that are located in any place under its jurisdiction or control, in accordance with the provisions of this Convention.
Each State Party undertakes not to use riot control agents as a method of warfare.
All right. Now, what do they consider to be a chemical weapon?
For the purposes of this Convention:
“Chemical Weapons” means the following, together or separately:
Toxic chemicals and their precursors, except where intended for purposes not prohibited under this Convention, as long as the types and quantities are consistent with such purposes;
Munitions and devices, specifically designed to cause death or other harm through the toxic properties of those toxic chemicals specified in subparagraph (a), which would be released as a result of the employment of such munitions and devices;
Any equipment specifically designed for use directly in connection with the employment of munitions and devices specified in subparagraph (b).
“Toxic Chemical” means:
Any chemical which through its chemical action on life processes can cause death, temporary incapacitation or permanent harm to humans or animals. This includes all such chemicals, regardless of their origin or of their method of production, and regardless of whether they are produced in facilities, in munitions or elsewhere. (For the purpose of implementing this Convention, toxic chemicals which have been identified for the application of verification measures are listed in Schedules contained in the Annex on Chemicals.)
Death, temporary incapacitation, or permanent harm to humans or animals sounds reasonably definitive, at first glance.
However, there are so many possible modalities of attack with modern weaponized biotech, one may conceive of the possibility of certain agents being developed that bioethicists will all too eagerly sign off on as being neither incapacitating nor harmful.
Let’s go over a few ways we can use modern biotech to skirt both the BWC and CWC and produce novel agents with profound, devastating effects.
Neural Network Disruptors
Human neurons and synapses are fascinating things. They are fine-tuned electrochemical devices that form the basis of our senses, cognition, and motor impulses. Our autonomic nervous system even regulates countless things in our bodies that we don’t even exert conscious control over.
Your ability to perceive your surroundings – to see, hear, and smell what’s around you – depends on your nervous system. So does your ability to recognize where you are and to remember if you’ve been there before. In fact, your very capacity to wonder how you know where you are depends on your nervous system!
Naturally, due to the vital role of nervous tissue in the proper functioning of our bodies, these tissues are often a target of chemical warfare. Nerve agents such as VX work by inhibiting acetylcholinesterase enzymes, leading to a buildup of acetylcholine and subsequent paralysis of the diaphragm and heart muscle, leading to respiratory failure and, eventually, cardiac arrest.
Nerve agents are illegal because they cause obvious and indiscriminate harm to people, with even the tiniest exposures being potentially quite lethal. However, in recent years, a new, little-known class of agent has emerged; nanoparticle neural disruptors.
Despite having many beneficial properties, nanoparticle also raises few health hazard and toxicity issues. To better understand the safety profile of the nanoparticles, several attempts have been made to know whether nanoparticles cause any side effects or toxic effects. It has been shown that nanomaterials possess highly activated surfaces that are capable of inducing carcinogens, mutagens, or health hazard responses.52–54 Furthermore, it has been reported that carbon nanotubes induced fibrogenesis on nanostructured substrates.55 Moreover, nanoparticles are 100 times smaller than normal red blood cells, which increase the potential for interaction, and there is evidence that nanoparticles interact with proteins, DNA,56 lung cells, and viruses. The current assumption is that nanoparticles such as silica featured as hydrophilic, hydrophobic, or even amphiphilic that can be taken up by human membranes may pose serious threats. Hence, understanding nanoparticles’ interaction with living cells and other biologic systems, especially with central nervous system (CNS), is critical. Nanoparticles have potential functionality and toxic effects on human neuronal cells because they can pass through biologic membranes.57 It is known that the biologic half-life of silver in the CNS is longer than that in other organs, suggesting that there may be some significant physiologic functions, consequences, and risks to the brain because of prolonged exposure. In addition, effects of nanoparticles on the blood–brain barrier (BBB) were also evaluated, and it was found that administration of Ag, Cu, or Al/Al2O3 nanoparticles showed disrupted BBB function and induced brain edema formation.58 Moreover, AgNPs induced BBB destruction and astrocyte swelling and caused neuronal degeneration.59 In the present review, we have discussed various nanoparticles and their impacts on the neuron’s biology and tried to evaluate their responses (stimulatory or inhibitory), which were studied in both in vitro and in vivo models, respectively.
Engineered small graphene oxide (s-GO) sheets were previously shown to reversibly down-regulate glutamatergic synapses in the hippocampus of juvenile rats, disclosing an unexpected translational potential of these nanomaterials to target selective synapses in vivo. Synapses are anatomical specializations acting in the Central Nervous System (CNS) as functional interfaces among neurons. Dynamic changes in synaptic function, named synaptic plasticity, are crucial to learning and memory. More recently, pathological mechanisms involving dysfunctional synaptic plasticity were implicated in several brain diseases, from dementia to anxiety disorders. Hyper-excitability of glutamatergic neurons in the lateral nucleus of the amygdala complex (LA) is substantially involved in the storage of aversive memory induced by stressful events enabling post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Here we translated in PTSD animal model the ability of s-GO, when stereotaxically administered to hamper LA glutamatergic transmission and to prevent the behavioral response featured in long-term aversive memory. We propose that s-GO, by interference with glutamatergic plasticity, impair LA-dependent memory retrieval related to PTSD.
Nanomaterials such as nanoparticles, nanoribbons, nanowires, and nanotubes vary greatly in their biological effects depending on the elements that they’re made out of. It’s easy to hear the word nanoparticle and assume that they’re all the same thing, when they’re not. The possible configurations of nanomaterials are almost limitless. Lipid nanoparticles of the type used for gene transfection (and in nucleic acid “vaccines”) are mostly degradable, being composed of a PEGylated lipid that readily merges with cell membranes and deposits the contents of the liposome into the cell.
Other types of nanoparticles, such as ones made of carbon, silicon, gold, silver, cadmium selenide, or gallium arsenide have different electrical properties and biological/toxicological effects. Many metal, carbon, or silicate nanoparticles are persistent, resist degradation, and may trigger ongoing inflammation, much like asbestosis or silicosis. Some nanoparticles are so small - much smaller than viruses, even - that they can create pores in cell membranes, alter the electrical properties of cells, or even integrate with intracellular structures.
When combined with the politicization of neuroscience, the potential for abuse here is incredible. Take the above example, for instance, where graphene oxide injected into the brains of rats reduced the synaptic plasticity of the amygdala, effectively numbing it to new stimuli. This impaired the threat processing capabilities of the rats.
The scientists have billed this as a possible PTSD treatment, and that may be so. However, let us consider a slightly different, more nefarious application.
Neuroimaging studies suggest that political ideology involves conservative-liberal differences in the amygdala, insula, and ACC.4,69,70 Just being interested in politics has increased activity in the amygdala and the ventral striatum,71 and encoding party preference activates bilateral insula and the ACC.69 An MRI study of 90 young adults shows that political conservatives, compared with political liberals, have greater gray matter in the right amygdala,72 and an fMRI study involving a risk-taking task shows that political conservatives have greater activity in the right amygdala.73 The association of political conservatism with the right amygdala,72 a structure that is bilaterally sensitive to emotional saliency, especially fear, suggests an increased processing of potential signals for threat.74 Although the anterior insula has a prominent role in the experience of disgust, brain responses to disgusting stimuli may show a more distributed pattern of differences between political conservatism and liberalism,38 consistent with a differential sensitivity for disgust among political conservatives. The unexpected association of political liberalism with activity in the left posterior insula in one study may reflex an additional role of the insula in the expression of interpersonal trust.75 Finally, political liberals have greater gray matter and increased ERP activity in the ACC,12,72,73 consistent with a sensitivity for processing signals for potential change.
Some neuroscientists believe that conservative and liberal brains are physically different, such that liberals rely more on the anterior cingulate cortex, which governs attention, anticipation of reward, morality, impulse control, and emotion, whereas conservatives rely on the amygdala, which is the part of the brain that governs fear, anxiety, and aggressive responses to aversive stimuli.
What if you met a bioethicist who argued that it was morally acceptable (and not incapacitating or harmful) to partly disable people’s amygdalae to reduce the neurological fear responses involved in bigoted, intolerant, or immoral behavior?
Actually, that was a trick question. They’ve already said that. Moreover, they’ve argued that it should be done without people’s knowledge or consent.
Some theorists argue that moral bioenhancement ought to be compulsory. I take this argument one step further, arguing that if moral bioenhancement ought to be compulsory, then its administration ought to be covert rather than overt. This is to say that it is morally preferable for compulsory moral bioenhancement to be administered without the recipients knowing that they are receiving the enhancement. My argument for this is that if moral bioenhancement ought to be compulsory, then its administration is a matter of public health, and for this reason should be governed by public health ethics. I argue that the covert administration of a compulsory moral bioenhancement program better conforms to public health ethics than does an overt compulsory program. In particular, a covert compulsory program promotes values such as liberty, utility, equality, and autonomy better than an overt program does. Thus, a covert compulsory moral bioenhancement program is morally preferable to an overt moral bioenhancement program.
2 THE UTILITARIAN CASE FOR MBE
According to its proponents, MBE is expected to increase the likelihood that we correctly estimate the right thing to do and act upon it. However, the estimation of what constitutes the correct action will depend on personal beliefs and preferences: To be morally enhanced is to have those dispositions which make it more likely that you will arrive at the correct judgement of what it is right to do and more likely to act on that judgement. It is disputed what the right thing to do is and how we would arrive at the right course of action. What constitutes moral enhancement will depend on the account one accepts of right action.10
In order to understand what this entails for utilitarian morality, we can start by examining whether the ends and means of MBE are right/permissible on utilitarian grounds. Thus, in this section, I will examine (i) how MBE affects moral agents and their actions (whether it promotes utilitarian ends), and (ii) whether the act of enhancement itself is right or permissible on utilitarian grounds (whether the means of MBE are acceptable). First, I look into MBE's correspondence with basic utilitarian principles and show that it could modify moral agents in ways that would indirectly facilitate utilitarian ends. Second, I explore the conditions that MBE would need to satisfy to be optimific, and I argue that there are good reasons to believe that it would meet these requirements.
2.1 Making better utilitarian agents?
Advocates of MBE envision this type of moral betterment as an extension of duties recognized by commonsense morality because such an approach may have the best overall consequences. ‘Folk’ or ‘commonsense’ morality is a globally shared set of moral attitudes that are ‘a common denominator of the diversely specified moralities of human societies over the world’.11 It amounts to ‘a set of psychological dispositions to react in particular ways in certain types of situations’.12 MBE is supposed to modify these dispositions. To fix some of the reoccurring flaws of moral psychology, Persson and Savulescu propose ‘a rather modest extension of commonsense morality, an extension which puts greater emphasis upon duties that commonsense morality already recognizes’.13 MBE is supposed to strengthen pro-moral emotions (sympathy, cooperation, etc.) or, alternatively, diminish counter-moral emotions (racial aversion, violent aggression, etc.).14
There are treaties that prevent the usage of chemical and biological weapons to maim and kill. There are no treaties that prevent the usage of chemical and biological weapons that manipulate the political behavior or moral values of populations by targeting specific structures in their brains with nanoparticles.
Covert moral bioenhancement may not sound like much of a weapon, but it is one. Suppose you distributed neural network disruptor nanoparticles over Moscow or Saint Petersburg, and the people there suddenly started to believe that the Russian government was deeply immoral and worthy of being violently overthrown, and then they proceeded to riot in the streets.
Whether or not the Russian government is immoral and worthy of being violently overthrown is beside the point. The point is, “morally enhancing” the citizens of certain countries may cause political and societal friction that could tear a country apart, thus achieving a military objective (i.e. deposing a dictator or tearing asunder the social fabric of a rival power). This manipulation of human behavior could lead to a population acting against its own interests, ripping apart the very institutions and infrastructure that they rely on in their everyday lives.
In short, a neuroweapon that is bloodless in its immediate effect (that is, one that causes no clear physical harm to the subject) may be extremely cruel and lethal in its long-term effect, when the subject experiences the effects of material deprivation and societal breakdown as a result of actions they had no conscious control over. If they ended up in the midst of a civil war due to such cognitive destabilization, any number of things could happen to them. They may lose their standing with their social circles. They may lose their job. They may live through famine. Their home could be bombed into rubble, their children crushed under hundreds of tons of concrete and brick. When they sit in the streets, their heads hanging in their hands, they will have no ability to even reflect on what led them there. The particles in their minds will not allow it.
That is the very definition of a weapon. That’s a tool for a brutal countervalue attack against a rival nation’s civilian population. If someone has been manipulated by a neuroweapon into fighting against their own government, I can tell you what they’re not doing; going to work, shopping for groceries, hanging out with their friends, or any of the other things that we ordinary people happen to call “living”.
If the world’s greater powers use neuroweapons against each other’s citizens that heighten aggression and antigovernment tendencies, it will lead to universal madness. Contrariwise, if they use long-acting anxiolytics against their own citizens to quell populist revolt, it will spell the end of politics as we know it.
Dr. James Giordano, a bioethicist connected to DARPA and the Pellegrino Center for Clinical Bioethics, has written extensively on this matter and held chilling speeches about it.
Armin Krishnan has also written extensively on the matter, as this review of his textbook articulates:
Military Neuroscience is mainly confined to the more tangible problem of examining how understanding and manipulation of the human mind can be used for military-strategic purposes. This can take the form of neurological enhancement—a quite promising area of human improvement that has captured the fascination of the Silicon Valley elite, amongst others. However, it also may be used offensively, and a considerable portion of the book is devoted to discussion of four broad types of “degradation technologies.” Some of these, such as the weaponization of hallucinogens, are broadly familiar from (often dubiously ethical) Cold War–era research, but others would be entirely new and potentially devastating. This could include, for example, the use of “gene driving” to rapidly spread genes amongst a population of wild fauna, such as mosquitos. That modified population would then inflict disease (fatal or otherwise) on a human population—or even insert bioregulators that would alter human behavior. The insects themselves would produce the biowarfare agents, making them into a vast and constantly self-replicating army COMPARATIVE STRATEGY 2018, VOL. 37, NO. 3, 251–254 capable of inflicting massive human and economic damage before the threat itself was even fully understood.
The subjects addressed in Military Neuroscience are timely—indeed, many of the technologies that Krishnan discusses may be the subject of covert research programs in a variety of countries. When the next major conflict occurs, it is entirely possible that “neurowarfare” will play a very large, perhaps even decisive, role. States that are unready for a possible neurowarfare military revolution, and unable to defend against potentially devastating neurowarfare attacks, may find this to be a catastrophic vulnerability
In previous articles, I also articulated the ethical risks of such nanoparticles being remotely energized to stimulate and activate specific brain regions, such as with DARPA’s N3 program.
With the advent of neurowarfare, we would move from the era of fifth-generation warfare into the era of sixth-generation warfare.
If information is the basis of fifth-generation warfare, then in sixth-generation warfare, people would be manipulated directly, using neuroweapons instead of more conventional techniques, like propaganda. This, in turn, would lead to second-order and third-order effects, such as altering the type and character of the information that people reproduce and spread socially.
DREADD is an acronym which stands for Designer Receptors Exclusively Activated by Designer Drugs. They are an improvement on the concept of RASSLs (receptors activated solely by synthetic ligands), in that they do not readily respond to endogenous ligands.
Since the invention of the first designer receptors exclusively activated by designer drugs (DREADDs), these engineered G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) have been widely applied in investigations of biological processes and behaviors. DREADD technology has emerged as a powerful tool with great potential for drug discovery and development. DREADDs can facilitate the identification of druggable targets and enable researchers to explore the activities of novel drugs against both known and orphan GPCRs. Here, we discuss how DREADDs can be used as novel tools for drug discovery and development.
Basically all human cells have various types of receptors on their surfaces which perform various functions, particularly receiving signals from other cells in the form of receptor-ligand interactions. A DREADD is a synthetic receptor (that is, a membrane-bound protein) that responds only to a synthetic ligand. That is, it is not activated by anything produced in the body, but exclusively by substances introduced into the body.
Let’s say you wanted to manipulate someone’s brain using DREADDs. Well, that’s as simple as transfecting their brain cells with genetic material that coaxes the ribosomes in their neurons into translating the protein, or introducing modified neurons into the brain with the gene for the protein already incorporated into their genome.
Then, activating them is as simple as drugging the subject with the specific substance that binds to the DREADDs. You could add it to the water supply, or the subject’s food, without anyone realizing it unless they were lab-testing samples and specifically looking for that compound.
This technique is also referred to, more generally, as chemogenetics.
Chemogenetics refers to the engineering of protein receptors to respond to previously unrecognized small molecules. Chemogenetic tools are actuators for specific cellular pathways targeted to specific cell populations (most often neurons) that can be turned on or off by the application of a small molecule ligand. The ideal chemogenetic tools are unresponsive to native ligands and are engineered to respond to small molecules that do not affect endogenous signalling, therefore allowing precise control over the cell population they are targeted to.
If you could control the distribution of the DREADDs in the brain tissue of the subject, you could use a chemical that binds to those DREADDs to activate specific brain regions over others, such as brain regions that govern specific emotions, like the amygdala for anxiety, or the reward centers for euphoria. One may even be capable of manipulating the subject’s memory.
In other words, the subject will become the unwitting thrall of whoever administers the drug.
Gene Editing With CRISPR
CRISPR-Cas9 is a method of editing genes in eukaryotic cells that was devised a decade ago. It is based on the function of a protein found in strep bacteria that is used to recognize and attack the genetic material of bacteriophages by cleaving the foreign DNA. Researchers discovered that Cas9 nucleases can be loaded with a guide RNA and sent to cleave specific parts of the genome in a eukaryotic cell, like a laser-guided pair of molecular scissors.
This technique is already seeing wide usage in biotechnological contexts. It could also be used to engineer cells and tissues by adding genes that code for wholly synthetic proteins not found in nature, which brings us to our next point.
Proteins are finicky things. They’re one of the fundamental building blocks of all life forms, consisting of chains of amino acids that fold in on themselves into various shapes. However, deducing how proteins fold is a serious computational challenge. Many years and a great deal of supercomputer (and distributed supercomputer) time have been dedicated to the task, and now, we are on the verge of designing whole new proteins from scratch. Since protein engineering by hand is beyond the mental capacity of most human beings, due to the many highly complex interactions found in these molecules, scientists are now using computational, machine-learning-based, iterative approaches to protein design. This has led to the creation of a whole new field known as CPD, or computational protein design.
Evolution has given us proteins that perform amazingly complex tasks in living systems, each molecule appearing “custom-built” for its particular purpose. Protein design seeks to enable the “custom building” of proteins at will, for specific tasks, without waiting for evolution. This is a grand challenge, because how a protein’s 3-dimensional structure and function are encoded in its amino acid sequence is exceedingly difficult to model. In this paper, we argue that sequence–structure encodings can instead be learned directly from proteins of known structure, which enables an approach to design. We are at an exciting time in protein science, where emergent principles inferred from data may allow us to make headway in cases where application of first principles is challenging.
Protein design is a problem that gets easier and easier as Moore’s Law marches on, and this computationally-intensive task is performed by ever-more-sophisticated computers.
What could you do with protein design? I think the more pertinent question here is, what couldn’t you do? There are proteins in humans and animals that perform an endless array of functions, from assembling and cutting nucleic acids (polymerases and nucleases), to cutting other proteins (proteolytic enzymes), to relaying signals around the body (membrane-bound receptors). Protein design is life design. It is an immensely powerful tool.
It is also a means of creating novel weapons. By transfecting genetic material into someone’s cells that generates a designer protein with toxic effects, you can make them very, very ill indeed.
In Vivo Biofabrication
With some new types of biotechnology, it may be possible to “print” novel structures inside the body using biological processes.
Take, for instance, Ehud Gazit’s research into the usage of repeating amyloid units to assemble artificial structures.
Self-assembled peptide and protein amyloid nanostructures have traditionally been considered only as pathological aggregates implicated in human neurodegenerative diseases. In more recent times, these nanostructures have found interesting applications as advanced materials in biomedicine, tissue engineering, renewable energy, environmental science, nanotechnology and material science, to name only a few fields. In all these applications, the final function depends on: (i) the specific mechanisms of protein aggregation, (ii) the hierarchical structure of the protein and peptide amyloids from the atomistic to mesoscopic length scales and (iii) the physical properties of the amyloids in the context of their surrounding environment (biological or artificial). In this review, we will discuss recent progress made in the field of functional and artificial amyloids and highlight connections between protein/peptide folding, unfolding and aggregation mechanisms, with the resulting amyloid structure and functionality. We also highlight current advances in the design and synthesis of amyloid-based biological and functional materials and identify new potential fields in which amyloid-based structures promise new breakthroughs.
In a further example, the formation of fibrils (so-called protein nanofibres) by the extracellular matrix (ECM) adhesion protein fibronectin was observed after incubation at 37 °C in water/ethanol mixtures.94 The fibrils were used as scaffolds to deposit N-hydroxysulfosuccinimide (NHS)-modified CdSe–ZnS core–shell quantum dots (QDs), which had potential applications as biophotonic nanohybrid materials. Fibrinogen also forms fibrils by incubation at pH 2, and these were used as templates for biomineralization.95
Recent studies have revealed that several natural protein aggregates possess intrinsic semiconductive optical properties (15). Kaminski et al. demonstrated that when excited at 405 nm, the assemblies of misfolded proteins associated with neurodegenerative disorders can exhibit intrinsic fluorescent emission (16, 17). This label-free autofluorescence allows quantitative assessment of the kinetics of amyloid fibrillar formations, eliminating the need for extrinsic labeling, which might result in steric hindrance and other perturbations during aggregation (16).
Self-assembled structures made of very short peptides, including fragments of such amyloidogenic proteins, may also have intriguing semiconductive properties because their band gaps are comparable to those of conventional materials (18). Furthermore, their bioderived nature and rigid self-assembly (19, 20) can minimize the potential cytotoxicity of the building blocks (21), demonstrating the biocompatibility of the supramolecular structures. Enantiomers determine the enzymatic sensitivity (l-type) or resistance (d-type) of self-assemblies (22), thus underlying their controllable biosustainability. Also, the weak reducibility of the amino acids implies the strong oxidation stability of the supramolecular structures (23). By virtue of their simple and low-cost synthesis, as well as their ease of modulation relative to their larger counterparts, these self-assembled peptide semiconductors may serve as candidates for advanced interdisciplinary functional nanostructures (24, 25).
If you could assemble semiconductors in people’s bodies out of amyloid in an ordered and regulated way, you could assemble the components of a literal biocomputer inside someone’s body.
It is an odd coincidence that SARS-CoV-2’s proteins are highly amyloidogenic.
Technically, a number of things already mentioned above count as crude forms of bionanotechnology. However, when all of these factors are combined together, as one engineering platform (gene editing, nanoparticles, in-vivo bioassembly, protein design, etc.), it becomes possible to engineer living organisms to incorporate novel structures, like nanomaterials, metamaterials, artificial tissue lattices, and so forth, that might behave like biological/electronic hybrids, incorporating features of both living cells and electrical devices in one.
This is an area of ongoing research. They are even looking into ways to make such bionanotechnological devices internet-enabled. The terms used for such things are WBAN (wireless body area networks), Intra-body Nano-networks, IoB (the Internet of Bodies), and IoBNT (the Internet of Bio-Nano Things). Such devices could be made to behave intelligently inside the body, acting on the direction of swarm AI, retrieving information from cells and tissues, or influencing the behavior of said cells and tissues, or even performing functions that no natural, unaugmented organisms ever could.
Internet of bio-nano things (IoBNT) is a novel communication paradigm where tiny, biocompatible and non-intrusive devices collect and sense biological signals from the environment and send them to data centers for processing through the internet. The concept of the IoBNT has stemmed from the combination of synthetic biology and nanotechnology tools which enable the fabrication of biological computing devices called Bio-nano things. Bio-nano things are nanoscale (1–100 nm) devices that are ideal for in vivo applications, where non-intrusive devices can reach hard-to-access areas of the human body (such as deep inside the tissue) to collect biological information. Bio-nano things work collaboratively in the form of a network called nanonetwork. The interconnection of the biological world and the cyber world of the Internet is made possible by a powerful hybrid device called Bio Cyber Interface. Bio Cyber Interface translates biochemical signals from in-body nanonetworks into electromagnetic signals and vice versa. Bio Cyber Interface can be designed using several technologies. In this paper, we have selected bio field-effect transistor (BioFET) technology, due to its characteristics of being fast, low-cost, and simple The main concern in this work is the security of IoBNT, which must be the preliminary requirement, especially for healthcare applications of IoBNT. Once the human body is accessible through the Internet, there is always a chance that it will be done with malicious intent. To address the issue of security in IoBNT, we propose a framework that utilizes Particle Swarm Optimization (PSO) algorithm to optimize Artificial Neural Networks (ANN) and to detect anomalous activities in the IoBNT transmission. Our proposed PSO-based ANN model was tested for the simulated dataset of BioFET based Bio Cyber Interface communication features. The results show an improved accuracy of 98.9% when compared with Adam based optimization function.
In this work, the author has evaluated the propagation of electromagnetic waves inside the human tissue such as blood, skin and fat for single-path and multi-path layers according to nano sensor transmit power calculations. In particular, the propagation characteristics of the Intra-Body Nano-Network communication channel are calculated using a theoretical approach. The analysis in this paper provides an evaluation related to the path loss, bit error rate, signal to noise ratio and the channel capacity. The model is evaluated for each single-path effect and multi-path effect. The effects of human tissue for each blood, skin and fat for single-path effect and multi-path are included in the analysis. The model frequency range is chosen from 0.01 to 1.5 THz frequencies, which are ideal for designing nano sensors antennae and using THz range for communication. This paper will also guide other researchers who are working on the electromagnetic radiation performance of Intra-Body Nano-Network and Nano sensors designed at the THz range.
This is not science fiction. It is soon to be (or perhaps already is) a real paradigm in bioengineering. If bionanotechnology was used indiscriminately on human beings, the prospects for our continued privacy and autonomy would be grim indeed.
A Regulatory Blind Spot
People are accustomed to thinking of life as a special category of being, with spiritual significance above and beyond that of other forms of animate matter.
From the perspective of synthetic biology, bionanotechnology, and other forms of advanced biotech, this is not the case; humans and other life forms are basically a type of very complicated, self-replicating soft robot made out of lipids, proteins, DNA, and so forth. From that perspective, if you can take control of the programming language of life - genes and their resultant proteins - as well as manipulating the behavior of organic cells at the nano-scale, then you can “hack” living organisms and alter their behavior and functionality to be more desirable to you.
A genetically and bionanotechnologically manipulated human would behave something like an engineered product, incapable of free will or rebellion against an unjust system. Does that sound farfetched? Imagine if you genetically engineered a human embryo such that, once they matured, all the relevant cell lines in their body already expressed various different types of DREADDs, as well as giving them intrinsic genetic tolerance of RF-receiving nanoparticles in the cytoplasm of their cells without undue inflammatory or oxidative reactions.
Such a being would be incapable of doing anything other than accepting the terms of its own enslavement; its creators would have complete control over its thoughts, emotions, and behavioral tendencies. Its biology would be an open book to them.
If large swaths of humanity were modified in such a way, then there would be no impetus to resist the system at all; no one would even realize that there was anything wrong. Unmodified people expressing views contrary to the system’s dictates would appear insane. It is the ultimate form of regulatory capture, based on the captivity of an entire intelligent species.
To sum up, there are laws and treaties that forbid killing someone with a biological or chemical weapon. Governments flaunt those laws and treaties all the time.
There are no laws that specifically forbid mind control, or stripping humans of agency on a biological level. It is a Wild West. A regulatory blind spot. A gap in the law.
“The question we asked was whether our current human rights framework was well equipped to face this new trend in neurotechnology,” Ienca told the Guardian. Having reviewed the rights in place today, the pair concluded that more must be done to protect people.
“The information in our brains should be entitled to special protections in this era of ever-evolving technology,” Ienca said. “When that goes, everything goes.”
Why is this the case? One can only speculate. It may be that most people find the idea of such technology to be laughable or technically infeasible (it is neither), thus causing them to let down their guard. Or, it may be that governments are already planning on using this technology for social control, and do not want to hamstring themselves. Many of these technologies actually do have very beneficial therapeutic uses in the right hands, but due to their power to influence living organisms on a fundamental, molecular level, the consequences of such power falling into the wrong hands would be disastrous.
There needs to be a movement for the preservation of personal autonomy and human dignity in the face of rapid biotechnological advancements.
If there isn’t, then we will lose ourselves.
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