Global genetic data collection-manipulation is a double-edged sword of dual use from bio-welfare to bio-warfare.
The implications of weaponizing data are being realised only now worldwide. New concerns include security issues like the manipulation of public opinion to cause civil strife, economic disruption and bring about regime change. Global collection of genetic data and genetic manipulation of humans, animals, plants, destructive insects and deadly microbes is of dual use from bio-welfare to bio-warfare. It can be used beneficially for correcting genetic defects in humans, animals, plants; biological control of harmful microbes and insects; enhancing agricultural produce, etc. It has become ridiculously simple and cheap to misuse data and gene altering and synthesising tools; as simple as the use of an ordinary computer and a 3D printer. Big data, artificial intelligence and gene synthesis are being misused to create racially specific bioweapons and a super race (the old Nazi dream). In 2018, He Jiankui, a Chinese scientist announced on YouTube the birth of gene-edited human babies. A Frankenstein’s monster created by mistake could spell disaster for its creator as in Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel and for the human race. Super bugs targeted against specific crops and livestock of other nations can disrupt their food sources and economy. All this is not science fiction anymore. Dubious letters and biased research reports in reputed scientific journals are misleading world opinion with “lies, damned lies, and statistics”. In a case of pot calling the kettle black, whistleblowers and those raising issues that have serious consequences are being accused of scaremongering and dubbed conspiracy theorists.
BIOWEAPONS UNLIMITED: David R. Franz in the chapter “The potential bioweaponization of zoonotic diseases” states, “Since World War I, a number of nations have conducted programs to develop biological agents as weapons of war. These nations have included the United States, the former Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, and others.” The Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention was signed by 109 signatories in Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish on 10 April 1972 and came into effect on 26 March 1975. Ratification of this agreement did not stop the development and use of biological weapons by groups and nations thanks to the ease of deniability with the use of zoonotic agents or even man-made viruses passed off as zoonoses. Also, bioweapons are cheaper and easier to mass produce than conventional weapons and ideal for a proxy war. International bans have been ignored. Specific effective methods of regulation are needed to stop such clandestine, dangerous suicidal research.
DIVERSION OF FUNDS BOOMERANGS: The research on these agents can be financed and hidden under the cover of a public health threat as done by Dr Peter Daszak, president of EcoHealth (a misleading cryptonym) alliance of the United States. Dr Peter Daszak later tried covering his tracks by declaring he had no conflict of interest while organizing a letter by leading researchers denying lab origins of Covid-19 virus and also helped China in derailing the WHO probe. He did not bat an eyelid in denying involvement with Chinese bats and dangerous genetic manipulations till his Twitter claims were rediscovered (see image).
INTERNATIONAL COLLABORATION GAMED: Sino American collaboration in “Emerging Pathogens” has included technology transfer, training, funding, access to databases and viruses, joint conferences often with participation restricted to participants with security clearance. Chinese military virologists collected dangerous viruses from wild animals around the world, or stole them while posing as co-researchers, as they did from National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg, Canada. Database of the genomic sequence of these viruses sequenced elsewhere was mined. Meanwhile data of the extensive Chinese collection of viruses were hidden offline or withdrawn from international databases. Even data about the Mojiang Miners affected by Covid-19 like lethal pneumonia was collected but suppressed and misrepresented as a fungal infection. We are still unaware of any previous or later such incidents behind the lead wall of China.
PETER DASZAK AND THE GLOBAL VIROME PROJECT: A global atlas of unknown viral pathogens that might threaten humanity is being prepared under the Global Virome Project of 2018. The board of directors includes Dr Peter Daszak, who seems to have a finger in each pie of virology research. This project is promoted ostensibly as “the viral atlas might yield large co-benefits since concentrated research in one area often leads to unforeseen benefits elsewhere”. Another reason given is that “the Global Virome Project would create an international partnership that cuts across political adversaries for a common cause—China and the USA are two key actors in preventing infectious disease outbreaks and the mutual gains for them and the rest of the world are substantial”. Its funding and intention of its promoters warrant global regulation and oversight. Michael Osterholm, the director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Diseases Research and Policy, had stated about this project, “I still fail to see at this point how it’s going to better prepare the human race for the next infectious disease that jumps from animals to humans.”
RAPIDLY EVOLVING GENETIC ENGINEERING: Viruses have been changed since many decades without genetic engineering through spontaneous random mutations, recombination or re-assortment of their genetic code by traditional experimental methods in the laboratory including by repeated culture for gain of function. Genetically modified or engineered viruses are mostly generated by the insertion of foreign genes. Genetic modification of viral genomes involves changes of nucleotide bases constituting their genetic code by the specific insertion, deletion or artificial synthesis. Numerous accurate genetic engineering tools have been developed to extract, isolate, modify and insert genetic material, including the TALEN and the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry winning gene editing tool CRISPR.
MISUSE OF GENETIC ENGINEERING AND SYNTHETIC BIOLOGY: Novel DNA and RNA can be designed on a computer and assembled in a “Gene synthesis machine” (see image), thus making it possible to create a new life form. Very contagious and new viruses are misused for large scale bio-warfare. Less contagious pathogens can be multiplied in an animal or tissue culture and easily handled and carried in an agricultural spraying drone and used as a tactical weapon in the battlefield or by terrorists. The Nuffield Council on Bioethics in its 2016 report stated that “the simplicity and low cost of tools to edit the genetic code will allow amateurs—or ‘biohackers’—to perform their own experiments, posing a potential risk from the release of genetically modified bugs”. In 2016, the Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community statement named genome editing as a potential weapon of mass destruction.
VIRUS BIG DATA AND DARK TECHNOLOGY TWOSOME: Big data collection and analysis with artificial intelligence combined with cheap easy DNA editing, manipulating tools has enabled both beneficial and dangerous options. Military scientists with these facilities have reduced junior civilian researchers to the status of collection agents, collecting human, animal, plant or microbial samples and sequencing their genomes. Data is also stolen from international databases. Many animal viruses were genetically manipulated to infect humans. Genomic sequences of all deadly viruses can be compared in a computer and various permutations and combinations chosen. Dangerous new virus creations are then doled out on a need-to-know basis to secured, so called civilian laboratories for field testing. Any risk to life is to these researchers. Any major outbreak is blamed on zoonosis and a defenceless animal is made a scapegoat.
RACE SPECIFIC BIOWEAPONS: The International HapMap Project of 2002 to 2010 developed a human genome map and provided a massive genotype data from Caucasian, African and Asian population samples. Many differences in susceptibility to some diseases, and response to certain drugs between different ethnic groups were reported in a 2015 study in bmcgenomics. Multiple reports in scientific journals in 2016 such as in Oncotarget, in Cell and from Pasteur Institute in Paris, found differences in antibody responses and cellular immunity between those of African ancestry and Caucasians. Those of African ancestry had a stronger inflammatory response and immune overreaction like cytokine storm and autoimmune diseases. Genetic differences affecting the immune system lead to racial differences in the response to infections, drugs and vaccines. In a pandemic, racial differences exist in mortality rates and vaccine efficacy and complications. Genetic data from blood samples about racial differences can be used for racially targeted bio warfare.
THE WRITING ON THE WALL: The vast British Empire was created by the British East India Company and not by the British army or navy. Recent Chinese rulers have used similar trade tactics to shut industries around the world and gain worldwide monopoly and hegemony. A massive arms build-up threatens small nations resisting debt traps, into submission. The economy, health infrastructure and security of the rest of the world have now been destroyed by a bioweapon. According to Sun Tzu, the military strategist of ancient China, “victorious warriors win first and then go to war” and “supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting”. The wannabe sole superpower is leading its collaborating nations up the garden path while awaiting total capitulation of all the nations. Those red flagging issues that have serious consequences are being decried as doubting Thomas, conspiracy theorist, sci-fi enthusiasts and irrational persons of doubtful integrity and so on. Being forewarned is being forearmed. Let not the leadership of the free world say later that they were not forewarned.
Dr P.S.Venkatesh Rao is Consultant Endocrine, Breast & Laparoscopic Surgeon; National Delegate (India) to International Society of Surgery; President 2014-15, Indian Association of Endocrine Surgeons; former Professor of Endocrine Surgery; former Faculty CMC (Vellore), AIIMS (New Delhi), UCMS (Delhi), MSRMC (Bengaluru).