The democratisation of genetic engineering is now a reality. It is quite easy even for school students to create specific bioengineered life forms in a garage lab.
I will define bio-terror as the engineering and release of harmful or toxic life forms into the environment. We can expect the damaging incidents to be of both types – accidental and intentional.
There are three types of bio-terror we can expect in the 2020s-
- Viruses and bacteria that cause disease in humans
- Toxic varieties of edible plants growing in our fields – grain, fruit, vegetables
- Viruses and bacteria that cause infections in plants and animals that are a part of the human food chain
The issue then, is how do we plan to combat these bio-terrorism risks? The technology to reduce or end these risks must keep pace with those that create them.
The solution approaches that I can think of, fall into two buckets –
- The ability to rapidly engineer a biological organism or agent to neutralize the threat, in animals and plants.
- The ability to test for biological contamination at all points in the food supply chain, i.e., seeds, fodder, plants, animals, fruit, vegetables, grain, at the time of planting, weeding, feeding, buying, cooking, or eating.
There is no ready and available market today for these technologies. There is also no guarantee that they will have one in the future. So, the funding for the development of these technologies must come from the public sector (government).
Governments must acknowledge these significant risks to their citizens, and must invest with urgency. Bio-terror is not a possibility. It is a certainty.