A prediction made 20 years ago fufilled by COVID .. coincidence?

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Jun 6, 2021, 12:35:21 AM6/6/21
to DIYbio

The long-now foundation encourages thinking beyond the next Wall-st quarter or even a single life-space. Here, an early bet

"A bioterror or bioerror will lead to one million casualties in a single event within a six month period starting no later than Dec 31 02020."

seems to be firmly on the side of the proponent. Some of the counter-arguments
  •  Pool of potential perpetrators: The number of people eager for senseless destruction is small
  • Multiply by the fraction with the knowledge, skill, intelligence, and discipline to engineer a superbug
  • chance that the Black Hat will defeat the White Hats, namely the world's medical and epidemiological networks, who would combat an outbreak with containment, vaccines, antibiotics, etc.
  • historical (ir)relevance The only successful past cases of bioterror are the Rajneeshee cult (751 cases, 0 deaths) and the Anthrax mailing (5 deaths). The Soviet-era anthrax bioweapon leak killed another 66.
Some of comments reflect how incredibly fast synthetic biology has advance in 2 decades


Jun 6, 2021, 4:39:46 AM6/6/21
to DIYbio
I'm out of the loop - is this 'bioerror or bioterror' considered conspiracy craziness, or actually being accepted about COVID?

More importantly, how well is it supported? I've had people whom I consider a bit conspiracy-nuts make the claim to me that COVID was engineered; specifically, that some piece of HIV DNA was inserted into a coronavirus to make it more infectious/infectious to humans. And while that's clearly something to treat with a load of skepticism in an environment with so much motivated conspiracy theorizing going on, it's not fundamentally unrealistic. More importantly still, it seems like something that an independent biologist could fairly easily confirm or deny, if they sequenced corona and did some bioforensics. A piece of HIV DNA should be easily recognized, and in my limited expertise its insertion would probably leave detectable traces of recognizable gene-edit-supporting DNA somewhere as well, which would be further highlighted by differing from original previous DNA. 

I haven't been inclined to believe this claim so far, but AFAIC, science means operationalizing your hypotheses and checking the data rather than doing ideological flag-waving with the most science-community-approved opinion. It'd be really cool if a DIY biologist who just got a positive corona test would home-sequence their snot and provide some independent data on this - the biosafety would hardly get worse if they were sitting around and being contageous anyway.


Jun 6, 2021, 4:52:05 AM6/6/21
to DIYbio
Addendum. The reason I was talking about home-sequencing is that the conspiracy theorist I'm citing here claimed that scientists working with corona-DNA were all getting their sequence from a single apparently-trusted source, which would make it vulnerable to censorship. However, on consideration, it seems unlikely that biologists doing research into mutation and virus geneology would not be doing their own sequencing, and it seems not likely that an infectiousness-increasing engineered addition would have disappeared from the DNA of the still-spreading virus. Thus, it becomes much easier still to answer this question: no sequencing should be required, just grab a bunch of spread-as-far-apart-as-possible (in terms of the labs having done the sequencing) copies of published corona DNA and do the checking against HIV and gene-editing sequences. 

Cathal Garvey

Jun 6, 2021, 5:14:33 AM6/6/21
to Diybio
I recall early on they got a sequence of the original strain, which is probably termed "alpha" now under new WHO guidelines.

Anyway, it was pretty clear that it was just SARS after some evolution - changes mostly seemed incremental. Occams razor would seem to still suggest that it was as it always appeared to be: a long-threatened return of the same respiratory virus with some adaptations to let it break through this time and evade containment. The virus name indicates this: SARS-CoV2.

There is still the possibility of bio-error, that a lab handling SARS research samples may have accidentally let some escape, and that possibility is being taken seriously by some.

But it's less likely, in my opinion at least: the two vectors being "lab of trained technicians with specialised containment equipment" versus "much much bigger lab full of poachers with no training about zoonoses and no PPE".

As regards "bioterror", I would say that's practically outlandish. It's wholly unnecessary to explain anything about covid. And frankly, based on the horrific work done by the USA and USSR we know that deliberate effort can produce far more lethal outcomes. And if a less-resoirced group wanted to make a new outbreak I would guess they'd start somewhere other than a coronavirus. Yersinia Pestis would be a good place to start - did you know that it's basically unknown why the bubonic plague stopped circulating so widely in the late 1800s?

TLDR: The spread, mortality, etc. of COVID are quite consistent with a novel coronavirus. Bioerror is a less likely (IMO) possibility. The epidemiological community have been warning about new zoonotic pandemic outbreaks for decades and SARS and MERS were nearly it. In that respect, COVID's not special: just "third time lucky".

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Jun 7, 2021, 6:04:03 AM6/7/21
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Re: Cathal - Good info, thanks!
Message has been deleted

Daniel C.

Jun 21, 2021, 5:46:30 PM6/21/21
to diy...@googlegroups.com
On Sun, Jun 6, 2021 at 2:52 AM Raza <etcw...@hotmail.com> wrote:
it seems unlikely that biologists doing research into mutation and virus geneology would not be doing their own sequencing

This is my biggest hurdle in the "they're censoring the data" conspiracy.  "They" would have to convince everyone with a sequencer to cooperate, which isn't feasible.  Compare the likelihood that a shadowy cabal has their fingers in literally every lab in the entire world, vs. people not being as prepared as they should have been despite advance warning.  One happens all the time on all levels of human organization; the other, well... you can make up your own mind how likely it is, I guess.

Biology Discussions

Nov 29, 2021, 7:53:05 AM11/29/21
to DIYbio

I remember some of these predictions came out when we all thought Anthrax was going to be a pandemic at the time and having to worry about that and variants. Also around this time antibiotic resistant pathogens and variants were predicted to have the same results as COVID-19 is today.
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