Bio-weapon warning: Next pandemic could be genetically engineered, experts warn

Terrorists could genetically modify diseases to attack their enemies, and the consequences would be far more devastating than an outbreak of natural origin, scientists believe. If terrorists were able to obtain the biotechnology which allowed them to genetically modify a pathogen or virus, the consequences could be deadly for humanity and it could be the root of the next major pandemic.

The world has struggled to cope with a virus outbreak of natural origins in the coronavirus pandemic, with almost one million dead.

However, if a new virus were to be engineered, it would be completely foreign to scientists who would ultimately struggle to be able to contain and find a cure.

Vivek Wadhwa from Harvard Law Schoool, said advancements in gene-editing technology such as CRISPR are making it easier to create bioweapons.

Much in the same way as vaccines are created – by identifying the antigen which triggers the immune response which are then isolated and then injected it into humans – a similar process could happen by identifying the lethal traits in viruses to make them even more harmful.

Mr Wadwha wrote in an essay for Foreign Policy: “With COVID-19 bringing Western economies to their knees, all the world’s dictators now know that pathogens can be as destructive as nuclear missiles.

“What’s even more worrying is that it no longer takes a sprawling government lab to engineer a virus.

“Thanks to a technological revolution in genetic engineering, all the tools needed to create a virus have become so cheap, simple, and readily available that any rogue scientist or college-age biohacker can use them, creating an even greater threat.

“It is now too late to stop the global spread of these technologies — the genie is out of the bottle.

“We must treat the coronavirus pandemic as a full dress rehearsal of what is to come — unfortunately, that includes not only viruses that erupt from nature, but also those that will be deliberately engineered by humans.”

Mr Wadhwa is not the only expert concerned about the potential rise of bioterrorism.

Bryan Walsh, author of the book End Times which details the existential threats humanity faces, told “When I look into the near future, the thing that worries me the most is the threat of a bioengineered pandemic created out the lab using some of these new tools for genetic editing.

“That is particularly dangerous because diseases and pandemics are a threat already but what could be created in a lab on purpose say by terrorists would be much worse than anything created by nature.”

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Other scientists, however, are more optimistic about the benefits of CRISPR and other gene-editing tools.

Helen O’Neill, a molecular geneticist at University College London, believes disease could one day be irradiated through genetic modification.

She said: “There are endless capacities when it comes to gene editing.

“We can take your blood cells, we fix them and reinsert them back in to you.

“Soon every baby will have every letter of its genome read on the day it is born so we can tailor medication for them.”

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