The futility of "pandemic preparedness"
The Future of War Part II
This is an unofficial continuation of the piece below, about the (true) Future of War.
Preparing for pandemics, regardless of technological advances is a futile endeavor, another of the many ways you can execute “grant grabbing”, meaning funding for your “research”. One of the biggest examples of how futile this line of thinking is would be DARPA itself. They argued they could stop a (real, devasting, high mortality, fast spreading) pandemic within 2 months in 2017.
Now they want to leverage AI for the “prevention, treatment” and whatever other inane goal they have in mind. I am about to show you how futile this goal is, and I will ask you how feasible, besides a global surveillance state that would put the Chinese Communist Party system to shame, the goal truly is.
(I advise you to read the entire article below btw)
AI suggested 40,000 new possible chemical weapons in just six hours
‘For me, the concern was just how easy it was to do’
It took less than six hours for drug-developing AI to invent 40,000 potentially lethal molecules. Researchers put AI normally used to search for helpful drugs into a kind of “bad actor” mode to show how easily it could be abused at a biological arms control conference.
All the researchers had to do was tweak their methodology to seek out, rather than weed out toxicity. The AI came up with tens of thousands of new substances, some of which are similar to VX, the most potent nerve agent ever developed. Shaken, they published their findings this month in the journal Nature Machine Intelligence.
Second, we actually looked at a lot of the structures of these newly generated molecules. And a lot of them did look like VX and other warfare agents, and we even found some that were generated from the model that were actual chemical warfare agents. These were generated from the model having never seen these chemical warfare agents. So we knew we were sort of in the right space here and that it was generating molecules that made sense because some of them had already been made before.
For me, the concern was just how easy it was to do. A lot of the things we used are out there for free. You can go and download a toxicity dataset from anywhere. If you have somebody who knows how to code in Python and has some machine learning capabilities, then in probably a good weekend of work, they could build something like this generative model driven by toxic datasets. So that was the thing that got us really thinking about putting this paper out there; it was such a low barrier of entry for this type of misuse.
As I covered in the first post, designing novel anything, from toxins like this one to aminoacid/peptides that will literally fry your own nervous system is not hard, if you have a little know-how. And here we have something that I had in my own mind and written in my leather notebook in 2020. Here is an amazing article I referenced in Future of War I.
The Body's Own Bioweapons
In the past, experts discounted the risk that peptide bioregulators might be “weaponized” because such compounds are non-volatile and degrade rapidly when dispersed in the atmosphere, making them poorly suited for dissemination over large areas. But recent advances in drug delivery technology have changed this assessment. In particular, the development of systems for the delivery of insulin (a hormone made up of 51 amino acid units) as an inhalable aerosol has made it feasible to disseminate peptide bioregulators in the same manner. To prevent the misuse of these natural body chemicals for hostile purposes, scientists and national security analysts must understand the nature of the threat and develop appropriate policy responses.
How “hard” it would be to use machine learning and public datasets to generate novel toxins ? Apparently not that hard if you have the imagination and curiosity for it. So not that hard that I asked I friend who codes to write a little program for me, and gave him precise instructions and a couple of specific “math things” to add “it”.
The result was a specific peptide sequence (my main focus was always proteins and amino acids), that you can commercially order at any of the big custom peptides producing companies. Which I did, weeks ago, and no major red flags or anything else was raised, by the simple fact that the sequence doesn’t exist in any dataset or anywhere else.
The sequence and its implications were checked by a close friend, a very gift biochemist.
We destroyed the program, canceled the order, and I destroyed all the information.
The paper in question.
Dual use of artificial-intelligence-powered drug discovery
Between applying machine learning and AI to create a new toxin, and actually making one there is a huge gap, but the gap is getting smaller by the day, and one argument is how hard it would be to create, synthesize and test it. I would argue as hard as creating smallpox in your small lab for 100.000 dollars.
I know what went to your head “Wait, WHAT ?”
A biotech firm made a smallpox-like virus on purpose. Nobody seems to care
In 2017, the virologist David Evans made headlines when he used synthetic biology to recreate the extinct horsepox virus, which is closely related to the virus that causes smallpox, a disease eradicated in 1980. Evans and his team, ordering the genetic material they needed through the mail, reportedly spent $100,000 on the research, an amount that seems small given the momentous implications of their work. “No question. If it’s possible with horsepox, it’s possible with smallpox,” German virologist Gerd Sutter told Science magazine in a press account of Evans’s work. A number of biosecurity experts and even The Washington Post editorial board joined him in voicing their concerns. Given the reaction Evans met, one might expect the news that yet another microbe related to the smallpox virus had been synthesized to set off similar alarm bells.
Yet when the American biotech company that funded Evans’s horsepox work, Tonix Pharmaceuticals, announced this January that it had successfully synthesized just such a microbe, vaccinia, no one seemed to take note.
Since the World Health Organization eradicated the smallpox-causing variola virus from nature, the only known samples of it have been held in two high-security facilities in the United States and Russia. But developments in synthetic biology, a field which includes the art and science of constructing viral genomes, have made it possible to create the smallpox virus in a lab. While there’s no evidence that anyone has done that yet, as Tonix’s work indicates, researchers are inching incredibly close to that line. Before it was eradicated, smallpox was responsible for 300 million deaths in the 20th century. The re-introduction of the disease—through negligence or malice—would be a global health disaster. As I wrote in International Security 10 years ago, global biosecurity can be endangered not just by biological warfare and bioterrorism, but also by laboratory accidents with dangerous pathogens.
Tonix announced the new synthetic vaccinia virus quietly, burying the news in a press release for a poster that the firm presented at the American Society for Microbiology’s annual biodefense science and policy conference. The poster focused on the progress the company was making in testing Evans’s synthetic horsepox virus for use as a vaccine against smallpox, which Tonix calls TNX-801. Current smallpox vaccines are based on live vaccinia virus that is grown using cell culture technology. Tonix’s poster also references another smallpox vaccine candidate the company is testing, one based on a synthetic version of the vaccinia virus that Tonix is calling TNX-1200. While the vaccinia and horsepox viruses are not themselves serious threats to human health, there are several reasons why this new development in synthetic biology is problematic.
Tonix has apparently ignored the concerns that many biosecurity experts, including myself, have raised. Given the close genetic similarity among orthopoxviruses like the horsepox, variola, and vaccinia viruses, the laboratory techniques that can be used to create one can also be used to produce others–most worryingly, the smallpox-causing variola virus. Indeed, Evans has said as much himself, once pointing out that his research “was a stark demonstration that this could also be done with variola virus.” Evans’s lab used the same technique to produce the synthetic vaccinia virus for Tonix as it did to synthesize the horsepox virus.
Unlike in other cases of controversial dual-use research, the risks posed by the synthesis of orthopoxviruses are not offset by any significant benefi
There are a few reasons tablet top exercises focus so much on a small subset of weaponizable pathogens, one was the carelessness and how overworked and low-paid soviet scientists were. The other is how easy it would be for a malicious actor to actually do it with little investment, and a small group of experts. Smallpox is one of them.
I know what it is going to your head right now “Wait, WHAT ? It can’t be that easy. Maybe Poxviruses are super-simple and easier to do". Would the reader agree with my assertion that SARS-CoV-2 is a very complex pathogen ? One could write many theses on how it is among the most complex viruses to date.
A Swiss lab made the first synthetic clone of SARS-CoV-2
The first case of coronavirus in Switzerland was detected a week ago but the virus was in the country much before that, as a laboratory sample.
This content was published on March 3, 2020 - 15:00March 3, 2020 - 15:00
Three weeks before the first case was identified on Swiss soil scientists at a high security lab managed to make a synthetic clone of the coronavirus. The researchers are now trying to determine the importance of its individual genes. Their accomplishment is getting worldwide attention: labs and companies are requesting the clone to work on.
I have commented in a few tweets here and there that Omicron was engineered using AI, mathematical models, and somewhat of a bet from an interdisciplinary research team to “end” the pandemic. A virus with the literal opposite immune response from an inflammatory/molecular perspective, that gives broad immunity in the exact organs SARS-CoV-2 attacks the most (lower respiratory tract, deep in the lungs), and it had every single one of the most inflammatory sequences attenuated (the famous SEB one being the most perceptible even to laypeople).
It is so different that you can’t make a vaccine (I covered this before). That is to say, the dual use of technology isn’t decades ahead, it is already here, and preventing “synthetic pandemics” is as much a fool’s errand as using mRNA technology for long-term immunity against a highly transmissible respiratory virus.
This entire post is based on biology and chemistry orthodoxy, meaning everything here has been done from what “science” currently believes is the cutting edge of molecular manipulation and gene editing. What happens when an interdisciplinary team with mercenary tendencies is hired to develop novel bioweapons and decides to go as far as possible, beyond current scientific orthodoxy ? Is that even a thing ?
Chemists synthesize millions of proteins not found in nature
New technology could lead to development of novel “xenoprotein” drugs against infectious diseases.
MIT chemists have devised a way to rapidly synthesize and screen millions of novel proteins that could be used as drugs against Ebola and other viruses.
All proteins produced by living cells are made from the 20 amino acids that are programmed by the genetic code. The MIT team came up with a way to assemble proteins from amino acids not used in nature, including many that are mirror images of natural amino acids.
These proteins, which the researchers call “xenoproteins,” offer many advantages over naturally occurring proteins. They are more stable, meaning that unlike most protein drugs, they don’t require refrigeration, and may not provoke an immune response.
“There is no other technological platform that can be used to create these xenoproteins because people haven’t worked through the ability to use completely nonnatural sets of amino acids throughout the entire shape of the molecule,” says Brad Pentelute, an MIT associate professor of chemistry and the senior author of the paper, which appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences the week of May 21.
I want the reader to watch the video by Dr. James Giordano at the very least, read that piece and this one, and answer me.
If you attend university, you get even more access to a myriad of other tools, completely at your disposal and nobody is the wiser about whatever you are doing it. Building a lab is not that expensive, you can order everything online, on a stretch, and with good deals, you can build a lab for 50.000 dollars.
How can you prepare for something you a young adult with a CRISPR kit, an internet connection and curiosity can create ?
For the more anxious among my readers, this isn’t that easy to do, this won’t happen overnight, and 99% of the time it is easy to track whenever someone “cooked up” something, but not that easy to track where/when it was released. This post is more about awareness than fear, or doom and gloom.
The population should be aware of how easy it is to do things that can vastly change the fate of nations, sometimes the world. There should be legislation written about this right now, and not about climate change, among other more harsh opinions from me, that I won’t bore the reader with.
(If you ever asked yourself why I left my former job, that made life much easier, reading both Future of War and the first Beyond Mathematical Odds will give you the answer).
I hope you all have a nice Sunday ! Perhaps a small post about Omicron variants and immunity (basically you need to get reinfected with the new ones to be protected against the coming ones).
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John, were you aware of the fact that the Soviets (and now maybe the Chinese) had loaded ICBMs with refrigerated warheads for weaponized versions of smallpox, anthrax, tularemia, and other pathogens for follow up strikes on the US after the initial nuclear first strike?
When the analysts saw what were obviously refrigerated warheads, they said "We knew they weren't sending cold beer."
Imagine what might be in those warheads now, particularly from the Chinese, who bragg they are going to use "Genetic Blo-War" to wipe all Americans out.
I thought the SARS-COV-2 virus was the original/Wuhan strain, but that the Omicron strain predates it? If so, how could Omicron be a LAV for it?