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jueves, 7 de agosto de 2014

Bioengineered pandemic

El autor del presente artículo es Anders Sandberg, James Martin Research Fellow en la University Oxford. El profesor Sandberg describe las 10 posibles causas de exterminio de la humanidad. Como soy bióloga, (por deformación profesional) después de la amenaza atómica (Hiroshima, Nagasaki, la Crisis de los misiles en Cuba, Chernobil, Fukushima entre otras situaciones límite relacionadas con la energía nuclear), me interesó su punto de vista sobre la fácil, barata y asequible manipulación de seres vivos para causar graves enfermedades. Hay pandemias naturales. Pero también pueden provocarse. O hasta pudiera suceder que ciertos elementos patógenos "escaparan" de un laboratorio militar. El artículo completo lo pueden encontrar en un enlace de "The Guardian".  Mola un montón. Y no es bazofia made by Yahoo.

2. Bioengineered pandemic

Natural pandemics have killed more people than wars. However, natural pandemics are unlikely to be existential threats: there are usually some people resistant to the pathogen, and the offspring of survivors would be more resistant. Evolution also does not favor parasites that wipe out their hosts, which is why syphilis went from a virulent killer to a chronic disease as it spread in Europe.
Unfortunately we can now make diseases nastier. One of the more famous examples is how the introduction of an extra gene in mousepox – the mouse version of smallpox – made it far more lethal and able to infect vaccinated individuals. Recent work on bird flu has demonstrated that the contagiousness of a disease can be deliberately boosted.

eneasCC BY

Right now the risk of somebody deliberately releasing something devastating is low. But as biotechnology gets better and cheaper, more groups will be able to make diseases worse.
Most work on bioweapons have been done by governments looking for something controllable, because wiping out humanity is not militarily useful. But there are always some people who might want to do things because they can. Others have higher purposes. For instance, the Aum Shinrikyo cult tried to hasten the apocalypse using bioweapons beside their more successful nerve gas attack. Some people think the Earth would be better off without humans, and so on.
The number of fatalities from bioweapon and epidemic outbreaks attacks looks like it has a power-law distribution – most attacks have few victims, but a few kill many. Given current numbers the risk of a global pandemic from bioterrorism seems very small. But this is just bioterrorism: governments have killed far more people than terrorists with bioweapons (up to 400,000 may have died from the WWII Japanese biowar program). And as technology gets more powerful in the future nastier pathogens become easier to design.

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