Biotechnology risk is a form of existential risk from biological sources, such as genetically engineered biological agents.[1][2] The release of such high-consequence pathogens could be

A chapter on biotechnology and biosecurity was included in Nick Bostrom's 2008 anthology Global Catastrophic Risks, which covered risks including viral agents.[3] Since then, new technologies like CRISPR and gene drives have been introduced.

While the ability to deliberately engineer pathogens has been constrained to high-end labs run by top researchers, the technology to achieve this is rapidly becoming cheaper and more widespread.[4] For example, the diminishing cost of sequencing the human genome (from $10 million to $1,000), the accumulation of large datasets of genetic information, the discovery of gene drives, and the discovery of CRISPR.[5] Biotechnology risk is therefore a credible explanation for the Fermi paradox.[6]

Genetically modified organisms (GMO)

There are several advantages and disadvantages of genetically modified organisms. The disadvantages include many risks, which have been classified into six classes: 1. Health risks, 2. Environmental risks, 3. Threat to biodiversity, 4. Increase in social differences, 5. Scientific concerns, 6. Potential threat to the autonomy and welfare of farmers who wish to produce non-GM products.[7]

1. Health risks

The following are potential health risks related to the consumption of GMOs.

Unexpected gene interactions

The expected outcomes of the transferred gene construct may differ due to gene interactions. It has been hypothesized that genetic modification can potentially cause changes in metabolism, though results are conflicting in animal studies.[8]

Cancer risks

GM crops require lower amounts of pesticide compared to non-GM crops.[9][10][11] Because some pesticides' main component is glyphosate, the lower amounts of pesticides needed on GM crops may reduce the risk of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in workers who handle raw GM products.[12][13]

Allergenic potential

Allergenic potential is the potential to elicit an allergic reaction in already sensitized consumers. A particular gene that has been added to a GM crop possibly can create new allergens, and constant exposure to a particular protein allergen may have resulted in developing new allergies. This is not related directly to the use of GM technology; but since no test can predict allergenicity, it is highly possible that the new proteins or their interactions with usual proteins could produce new allergies.[7]

Horizontal gene transfer (HGT)

Horizontal gene transfer is any process by which an organism acquires genetic material from a second organism without descending from it. In contrast, the vertical transfer is when an organism acquires genetic material from its ancestors (i.e., its parents). HGT is the transfer of DNA between cells of the same generation. Humans and animals have been in contact with "foreign DNA". In humans, DNA has absorbed through food daily through fragments of plant and animal genes and bacterial DNA.[medical citation needed]

Antibiotic resistance

Theoretically, antibiotic resistance can occur by consuming genetically modified plants. Genes can be transferred to bacteria in the human gastrointestinal tract and develop resistance to that specific antibiotic.[medical citation needed] Considering this risk factor, more research is needed.[7]

Gain-of-function mutations

Main article: Gain-of-function research

Research

See also: Genetically modified virus

Pathogens may be intentionally or unintentionally genetically modified to change their characteristics, including virulence or toxicity.[2] When intentional, these mutations can serve to adapt the pathogen to a laboratory setting, understand the mechanism of transmission or pathogenesis, or in the development of therapeutics. Such mutations have also been used in the development of biological weapons, and dual-use risk continues to be a concern in the research of pathogens.[14] The greatest concern is frequently associated with gain-of-function mutations, which confer novel or increased functionality, and the risk of their release. Gain-of-function research on viruses has been occurring since the 1970s, and came to notoriety after influenza vaccines were serially passed through animal hosts.[citation needed]

Mousepox

A group of Australian researchers unintentionally changed characteristics of the mousepox virus while trying to develop a virus to sterilize rodents as a means of biological pest control.[2][15][16] The modified virus became highly lethal even in vaccinated and naturally resistant mice.[17]

Influenza

In 2011, two laboratories published reports of mutational screens of avian influenza viruses, identifying variants which become transmissible through the air between ferrets. These viruses seem to overcome an obstacle which limits the global impact of natural H5N1.[18][19] In 2012, scientists further screened point mutations of the H5N1 virus genome to identify mutations which allowed airborne spread.[20][21] While the stated goal of this research was to improve surveillance and prepare for influenza viruses which are of particular risk in causing a pandemic,[22] there was significant concern that the laboratory strains themselves could escape.[23] Marc Lipsitch and Alison P. Galvani coauthored a paper in PLoS Medicine arguing that experiments in which scientists manipulate bird influenza viruses to make them transmissible in mammals deserve more intense scrutiny as to whether or not their risks outweigh their benefits.[24] Lipsitch also described influenza as the most frightening "potential pandemic pathogen".[25]

Regulation

In 2014, the United States instituted a moratorium on gain-of-function research into influenza, MERS, and SARS.[26] This was in response to the particular risks these airborne pathogens pose. However, many scientists opposed the moratorium, arguing that this limited their ability to develop antiviral therapies.[27] The scientists argued gain-of-function mutations were necessary, such as adapting MERS to laboratory mice so it could be studied.

The National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity also has instituted rules for research proposals using gain-of-function research of concern.[28] The rules outline how experiments are to be evaluated for risks, safety measures, and potential benefits; prior to funding.

In order to limit access to minimize the risk of easy access to genetic material from pathogens, including viruses, the members of the International Gene Synthesis Consortium screen orders for regulated pathogen and other dangerous sequences.[29] Orders for pathogenic or dangerous DNA are verified for customer identity, barring customers on governmental watch lists, and only to institutions "demonstrably engaged in legitimate research".

CRISPR

See also: CRISPR

Following surprisingly fast advances in CRISPR editing, an international summit proclaimed[clarification needed] in December 2015 that it was "irresponsible" to proceed with human gene editing until issues in safety and efficacy were addressed.[30] One way in which CRISPR editing can cause existential risk is through gene drives, which are said to have potential to "revolutionize" ecosystem management.[31] Gene drives are a novel technology that have potential to make genes spread through wild populations extremely quickly. They have the potential to rapidly spread resistance genes against malaria in order to rebuff the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum.[32] These gene drives were originally engineered in January 2015 by Ethan Bier and Valentino Gantz; this editing was spurred by the discovery of CRISPR-Cas9. In late 2015, DARPA started to study approaches that could halt gene drives if they went out of control and threatened biological species.[33]

See also

References

  1. ^ "Existential Risks: Analyzing Human Extinction Scenarios". Nickbostrom.com. Retrieved 3 April 2016.
  2. ^ a b c Ali Noun; Christopher F. Chyba (2008). "Chapter 20: Biotechnology and biosecurity". In Bostrom, Nick; Cirkovic, Milan M. (eds.). Global Catastrophic Risks. Oxford University Press.
  3. ^ Bostrom, Nick; Cirkovic, Milan M. (29 September 2011). Global Catastrophic Risks: Nick Bostrom, Milan M. Cirkovic: 9780199606504: Amazon.com: Books. ISBN 978-0199606504 – via Amazon.com.
  4. ^ Collinge, David B.; Jørgensen, Hans J.L.; Lund, Ole S.; Lyngkjær, Michael F. (1 July 2010). "Engineering Pathogen Resistance in Crop Plants: Current Trends and Future Prospects". Annual Review of Phytopathology. 48 (1): 269–291. doi:10.1146/annurev-phyto-073009-114430. ISSN 0066-4286. PMID 20687833.
  5. ^ "FLI – Future of Life Institute". Futureoflife.org. Retrieved 3 April 2016.
  6. ^ Sotos, John G. (15 January 2019). "Biotechnology and the lifetime of technical civilizations". International Journal of Astrobiology. 18 (5): 445–454. arXiv:1709.01149. Bibcode:2019IJAsB..18..445S. doi:10.1017/s1473550418000447. ISSN 1473-5504. S2CID 119090767.
  7. ^ a b c Hug, Kristina (February 2008). "Genetically modified organisms: Do the benefits outweigh the risks?". Medicina. 44 (2): 87–99. doi:10.3390/medicina44020012. ISSN 1648-9144. PMID 18344661.
  8. ^ Bawa, A. S.; Anilakumar, K. R. (19 December 2012). "Genetically modified foods: safety, risks and public concerns—a review". Journal of Food Science and Technology. 50 (6): 1035–1046. doi:10.1007/s13197-012-0899-1. ISSN 0022-1155. PMC 3791249. PMID 24426015.
  9. ^ Klümper, Wilhelm; Qaim, Matin (3 November 2014). "A Meta-Analysis of the Impacts of Genetically Modified Crops". PLOS ONE. 9 (11): e111629. Bibcode:2014PLoSO...9k1629K. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0111629. PMC 4218791. PMID 25365303.
  10. ^ Raman, Ruchir (2 October 2017). "The impact of Genetically Modified (GM) crops in modern agriculture: A review". GM Crops & Food. 8 (4): 195–208. doi:10.1080/21645698.2017.1413522. PMC 5790416. PMID 29235937.
  11. ^ Brookes, Graham (31 December 2022). "Genetically Modified (GM) Crop Use 1996–2020: Environmental Impacts Associated with Pesticide Use Change". GM Crops & Food. 13 (1): 262–289. doi:10.1080/21645698.2022.2118497. PMC 9578716. PMID 36226624.
  12. ^ Zhang, Luoping; Rana, Iemaan; Shaffer, Rachel M.; Taioli, Emanuela; Sheppard, Lianne (July 2019). "Exposure to glyphosate-based herbicides and risk for non-Hodgkin lymphoma: A meta-analysis and supporting evidence". Mutation Research/Reviews in Mutation Research. 781: 186–206. doi:10.1016/j.mrrev.2019.02.001. PMC 6706269. PMID 31342895.
  13. ^ Weisenburger, Dennis D. (September 2021). "A Review and Update with Perspective of Evidence that the Herbicide Glyphosate (Roundup) is a Cause of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma". Clinical Lymphoma, Myeloma & Leukemia. 21 (9): 621–630. doi:10.1016/j.clml.2021.04.009. ISSN 2152-2669. PMID 34052177. S2CID 235257521.
  14. ^ Kloblentz, GD (2012). "From biodefence to biosecurity: the Obama administration's strategy for countering biological threats". International Affairs. 88 (1): 131–48. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2346.2012.01061.x. PMID 22400153. S2CID 22869150.
  15. ^ Jackson, R; Ramshaw, I (January 2010). "The mousepox experience. An interview with Ronald Jackson and Ian Ramshaw on dual-use research. Interview by Michael J. Selgelid and Lorna Weir". EMBO Reports. 11 (1): 18–24. doi:10.1038/embor.2009.270. PMC 2816623. PMID 20010799.
  16. ^ Jackson, Ronald J.; Ramsay, Alistair J.; Christensen, Carina D.; Beaton, Sandra; Hall, Diana F.; Ramshaw, Ian A. (2001). "Expression of Mouse Interleukin-4 by a Recombinant Ectromelia Virus Suppresses Cytolytic Lymphocyte Responses and Overcomes Genetic Resistance to Mousepox". Journal of Virology. 75 (3): 1205–1210. doi:10.1128/jvi.75.3.1205-1210.2001. PMC 114026. PMID 11152493.
  17. ^ Sandberg, Anders. "The five biggest threats to human existence". theconversation.com. Retrieved 13 July 2014.
  18. ^ Imai, M; Watanabe, T; Hatta, M; Das, SC; Ozawa, M; Shinya, K; Zhong, G; Hanson, A; Katsura, H; Watanabe, S; Li, C; Kawakami, E; Yamada, S; Kiso, M; Suzuki, Y; Maher, EA; Neumann, G; Kawaoka, Y (2 May 2012). "Experimental adaptation of an influenza H5 HA confers respiratory droplet transmission to a reassortant H5 HA/H1N1 virus in ferrets". Nature. 486 (7403): 420–8. Bibcode:2012Natur.486..420I. doi:10.1038/nature10831. PMC 3388103. PMID 22722205.
  19. ^ "The Risk from Super-Viruses – The European". Theeuropean-magazine.com. Retrieved 3 April 2016.
  20. ^ Herfst, S; Schrauwen, EJ; Linster, M; Chutinimitkul, S; de Wit, E; Munster, VJ; Sorrell, EM; Bestebroer, TM; Burke, DF; Smith, DJ; Rimmelzwaan, GF; Osterhaus, AD; Fouchier, RA (22 June 2012). "Airborne transmission of influenza A/H5N1 virus between ferrets". Science. 336 (6088): 1534–41. Bibcode:2012Sci...336.1534H. doi:10.1126/science.1213362. PMC 4810786. PMID 22723413.
  21. ^ "Five Mutations Make H5N1 Airborne". The-scientist.com. Retrieved 3 April 2016.
  22. ^ "Deliberating Over Danger". The Scientist. 1 April 2012. Retrieved 28 July 2016.
  23. ^ Connor, Steve (20 December 2013). "'Untrue statements' anger over work to make H5N1 bird-flu virus MORE dangerous to humans". The Independent. Retrieved 28 July 2016.
  24. ^ Lipsitch, M; Galvani, AP (May 2014). "Ethical alternatives to experiments with novel potential pandemic pathogens". PLOS Medicine. 11 (5): e1001646. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001646. PMC 4028196. PMID 24844931.
  25. ^ "Q & A: When lab research threatens humanity". Harvard T.H. Chan. 15 September 2014. Retrieved 28 July 2016.
  26. ^ Kaiser, Jocelyn; Malakoff, David (17 October 2014). "U.S. halts funding for new risky virus studies, calls for voluntary moratorium". Science. Retrieved 28 July 2016.
  27. ^ Kaiser, Jocelyn (22 October 2014). "Researchers rail against moratorium on risky virus experiments". Science. Retrieved 28 July 2016.
  28. ^ Kaiser, Jocelyn (27 May 2016). "U.S. advisers sign off on plan for reviewing risky virus studies". Science. Retrieved 28 July 2016.
  29. ^ "International Gene Synthesis Consortium (IGSC) - Harmonized Screening Protocol - Gene Sequence & Customer Screening to Promote Biosecurity" (PDF). International Gene Synthesis Consortium. Archived from the original (PDF) on 19 August 2016. Retrieved 28 July 2016.
  30. ^ "Scientist Call For Moratorium on Human Genome Editing: The Dangers Of Using CRISPR To Create 'Designer Babies' : LIFE : Tech Times". Techtimes.com. 6 December 2015. Retrieved 3 April 2016.
  31. ^ ""Gene Drives" And CRISPR Could Revolutionize Ecosystem Management – Scientific American Blog Network". Blogs.scientificamerican.com. 17 July 2014. Retrieved 3 April 2016.
  32. ^ Ledford, Heidi; Callaway, Ewen (23 November 2015). "'Gene drive' mosquitoes engineered to fight malaria – Nature News & Comment". Nature.com. doi:10.1038/nature.2015.18858. S2CID 181366771. Retrieved 3 April 2016.
  33. ^ Begley, Sharon (12 November 2015). "Why FBI and the Pentagon are afraid of gene drives". Stat. Retrieved 3 April 2016.