In repose to my first post requesting topics of interest, “anonymous” noted that this blog is the top result on a Google search for “IL-4 Smallpox”... a dubious and disturbing honor for what I was hoping to be a content-free blog.
Anon also asked “what do you think of DHS efforts for a realtime bio-sensor network?”
It is possible that with the mobilization of massive logistical resources around the planet, we will prevail over genetically modified and engineered pathogens (GMPs). But I would not bet on it. It would be great to have a sensor network, but with most Health and Human Services offices lacking a basic Internet connection, we have a way to go.
From what I can tell, a crash-program in antiviral development may provide a ray of hope (e.g., HDP-cidofovir and some more evolutionarily robust and broad-spectrum host-based strategies).
Most importantly, from my random walk through government labs, talks with policy planners, CDC folk and DOD Red Team members, I haven’t seen any policy bifurcation for GMPs (for detection and response). I think there should be distinct policy consideration given to GMPs vs. natural pathogens.
The threat from GMPs is much greater, and the strategic response would need special planning. For example, the vaccinations that eradicated smallpox last time around may not be effective for IL-4 modified smallpox, and in-situ quarantine may be needed. “Telecommuting” for many forms of work will need to be pre-enabled, especially remote operation of the public utilities and MAE-East &West and other critical NAP nodes of the Internet.
The delicate "virus-host balance" observed in nature (whereby viruses tend not to be overly lethal to their hosts) is a byproduct of biological co-evolution
on a geographically segregated
planet. And now, both of those limitations have changed. Organisms can be re-engineered in ways that biological evolution would not have explored, nor allowed to spread widely, and modern transportation undermines natural quarantine formation.
In evolution, pathogens do not become overly lethal to their host, for that limits their own propagation to a geographically-bound quarantine zone. Evolution may have created 100% lethal pathogens in the past, but those pathogens are now extinct because they killed all of their locally available hosts.
A custom-engineered or modified pathogen may not observe that delicate virus-host balance, nor the slow pace of evolutionary time scales, and could engender extinction level events with a rapidity never before seen on Earth. Given early truncation of the lethality branch (truncating a local maximum), evolution has not experimented with a multivariate global maximum of lethality. The pattern of evolution is small and slow incremental changes where each intermediate genetic state needs to survive for the next improvement to accumulate. Engineered and modified pathogens do not need to follow that pattern.