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Designer pathogens (specifically, viruses and bacteria) of the future


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#1
starspawn0

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People tend to think of viral and bacterial infections as "curable" or at least "preventable" with modern science:  given pathogen x, scientists build vaccine or antibiotic, and then you only have to mass-produce it to prevent the spread of disease -- sure, it may take a long time to do the testing and such (regulations slow things down), but it's a solvable problem.
 
But then there are things like the HIV virus, that we still haven't cured -- and there may not be any cure in the near future, despite the efforts of thousands of scientists and the highest tech on planet earth:
 
https://medicalxpres...roadblocks.html
 

The major obstacle to curing HIV is a vast reservoir of "latent, replication-competent proviruses," which have infiltrated the very cells that help orchestrate the immune response.

Of all barriers to curing HIV, none pose as difficult a conundrum as latency, a quiescent phase in which proviruses essentially lie in wait, but remain capable of reactivation. A provirus is an inactive virus harbored by a cell. And in the case of HIV, the cells that provide a safe provirus haven are the various subpopulations of CD4+ T cells, key members of the immune system.


Obstacle... vast reservoir... difficult... conundrum...

I think, in fact, that it's a lot harder to defend against random viruses and bacteria than people think. So very many tiny objects enter the body each day; and the complexity of screening out the harmful ones is so great, that it's easy to imagine a large percent of new pathogens going undetected by the body's defenses. In fact, I've wondered before whether the body's defenses have the same flaws as certain image-recognition systems -- and even the human brain -- in that they are susceptible to misclassification when fed "adversarial examples"

https://en.wikipedia...achine_learning

In this case, it would be malicious particles that have been tweaked ever so slightly so that the immune system doesn't recognize them as such.

If it's so very, very difficult to defend against a random pathogen, just think what that means for the possibilities of bioterrorism. Imagine if Aum Shinrikyo

https://en.wikipedia...i/Aum_Shinrikyo

had come along a little later, in the era of CRISPR and other DNA-modification tools. Just imagine what they might have whipped-up in the lab, and unleashed onto an unsuspecting population -- maybe something like this:

https://www.sciencem...y-poised-resume
 

Controversial lab studies that modify bird flu viruses in ways that could make them more risky to humans will soon resume after being on hold for more than 4 years. ScienceInsider has learned that last year, a U.S. government review panel quietly approved experiments proposed by two labs that were previously considered so dangerous that federal officials had imposed an unusual top-down moratorium on such research.



#2
TranscendingGod

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Regarding HIV isn't it fair to say that we've developed drugs that for all intents and purposes negate the transmissiblity of the virus, and thus enabled a point in the not so distant future where the eradication of the disease is tangible? Do not those same tools that you suggest for the propagation of pathogens enable us to "cure" them? He Jiankui may be in jail now but did he not demonstrate this exact possibility? 


The growth of computation is doubly exponential growth. 


#3
starspawn0

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There are drugs that basically stop the spread of HIV, and also keep people healthy, but people have to keep taking them, and I don't believe they are cheap.   Imagine if, instead of being transmitted mostly by sexual contact, HIV were transmitted by sneezing.  Then, practically everyone would have to take medicines all the time, to keep from going downhill fast and dying.

 

Actually, this gives me an idea for a dystopian science fiction story:  in the not too distant future, a doomsday cult produces a type of HIV that is transmitted as an airborne disease.  It spreads very, very quickly, and pretty soon almost 100% of the human population has to take medicines to keep from developing a type of AIDS.  Actually, not exactly 100%, as there is a tiny sliver of humanity that has a natural immunity to the disease -- but it's very close to 100%.  The impact on the global economy is immense, as announcement after announcement of breakthrough cures all turn out to be dead-ends.  

 

Over the years, the virus evolves, and sometimes in such a way that the old medicines don't work.  Millions die before a new set of treatments are developed.  All of humanity wonders what will happen if it evolves yet again to a virus for which the treatments are so long in coming, that almost all the human population is obliterated.






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