…consider that the DNA of world leaders is already a subject of intrigue. According to Ronald Kessler, the author of the 2009 book In the President’s Secret Service, Navy stewards gather bedsheets, drinking glasses, and other objects the president has touched—they are later sanitized or destroyed—in an effort to keep would‑be malefactors from obtaining his genetic material.
Personalized bioweapons... are a subtler and less catastrophic threat, and perhaps for that reason, society has barely begun to consider them. Yet once available, they will, we believe, be put into use much more readily than bioweapons of mass destruction. For starters, while most criminals might think twice about mass slaughter, murder is downright commonplace. In the future, politicians, celebrities, leaders of industry—just about anyone, really—could be vulnerable to attack-by-disease. Even if fatal, many such attacks could go undetected, mistaken for death by natural causes; many others would be difficult to pin on a suspect, especially given the passage of time between exposure and the appearance of symptoms.
Imagine inducing extreme paranoia in the CEO of a large corporation so as to gain a business advantage, for example; or—further out in the future—infecting shoppers with the urge to impulse-buy.
The radical expansion of biology’s frontier raises an uncomfortable question: How do you guard against threats that don’t yet exist? Genetic engineering sits at the edge of a new era.
Presidential DNA could be used in a variety of politically sensitive ways, perhaps to fabricate evidence of an affair, fuel speculation about birthplace and heritage, or identify genetic markers for diseases that could cast doubt on leadership ability and mental acuity. How much would it take to unseat a president? The first signs of Ronald Reagan’s Alzheimer’s may have emerged during his second term. Some doctors today feel the disease was then either latent or too mild to affect his ability to govern. But if information about his condition had been genetically confirmed and made public, would the American people have demanded his resignation? Could Congress have been forced to impeach him?
Pernicious agents could be crafted to do their damage months or even years after exposure, depending on the goals of the designer.
From the let's get futuristically freaky department, future hacking crimes could take a decidedly sinister twist; not hacking to breach systems but brains, bodies and behaviors. This DNA hacking goes way beyond potentially using police bees to bust biohackers, or even storing unhackable data in box of bio-encrypted bacteria. It's not science fiction to hack insulin pumps or to use jamming signals to stop hackers from lethal pacemaker attacks, but now bioengineers and security futurists are warning that the day is coming when criminals and bioterrorists hunt for vulnerabilities that will give a new meaning to zero-day exploits. In the future, a weaponized virus will aim to infect you, your brain and body biology, and not just your computer or mobile device.
While some people resist the idea of needing antivirus or other security software defenses for their smartphones, in the world of synthetic biology, a world where bits, bytes, atoms and biology mix dreams with nightmare realities, it could be lethal to lag behind in patching potential vulnerabilities. Some day, when you hear about something going 'viral,' it will not apply to an idea or video but to a DNA hack going viral to infect the masses. When a computer is infected with malware or a virus, you can reformat a hard drive, but will a future security scenario include needing to worry about BSOD and reformatting your brain?
Darlene Storm, DNA Hackers: Synthetic biology weaponized virus, zero-day exploit to infect your brain?, Computer World, December 13, 2011
The so-called biopunks have loftier ambitions than building new iPhone apps or social media companies. They want to contribute to society by reengineering life itself, and they want to do it outside the walls of academia and industry.
Adrienne Burke, Citizen Science Takes Off: Could Community Labs Hatch the Next Generation of Bio Innovators? Forbes, Oct. 25, 2011
As scientists around the world continue to make breakthrough discoveries identifying and analyzing the approximately 25,000 genes in human DNA, the field has also given us something else: gene thieves.
For example, among the many uncomfortable truths revealed last November when WikiLeaks published classified diplomatic cables was that in 2009 the U.S. State Department had instructed its employees around the globe to gather DNA from key foreign civilian and military officials surreptitiously.
The cables didn’t explain exactly why the State Department wanted such biometric information, but genetics experts believe these covert collections are intended for use in profiling the foreign leaders in novel, cutting-edge detail—for example, determining what disease dispositions these foreign leaders might have. In the future, DNA testing might reveal what makes these leaders disposed to emotions such as happiness or grief, among other possibilities.
Elizabeth Joh, a law professor at the University of California at Davis, imagined a few scenarios in a paper released in January in the Boston University Law Review. For example: a professional sports team that wants to analyze the genetic information of a prospective player before offering a multimillion-dollar contract; fans of celebrities who might pay high prices to uncover their idols’ secrets; an individual’s personal enemy who wishes to find out about a target’s likelihood of becoming an alcoholic, a criminal or obese; or a person in a romantic relationship who wants to find out whether the other partner carries the gene for male pattern baldness or persistent miscarriage.
Eriq Gardner, Gene Swipe: Few DNA Labs Know Whether Chromosomes Are Yours or If You Stole Them , ABA Journal, Aug. 1, 2011