Saturday, February 6, 2010

Intelligently Designed Synthetic Biology in Warfare?

DARPA wants to intelligently design organisms that are impervious to disease and age.

The story is striking for obvious and not so obvious reasons.

First, the not so obvious. This particular passage sticks out:

Of course, Darpa’s up against some vexing, fundamental laws of nature — not to mention bioethics — as they embark on the lab beast program. First, they might want to rethink the idea of evolution as a random series of events, says NYU biology professor David Fitch. “Evolution by selection is not a random process at all, and is actually a hugely efficient design algorithm used extensively in computation and engineering,” he e-mails Danger Room.

I wonder what the pugilists involved in the ID debate would have to say about that? Vindication for Meyers and Dembski? Seems so. Now maybe he's making the minimalist methodological claim, that it is an aid in discovery of genetic mechanisms, to act as if you are reverse engineering some device, but, even that quasi-Kantian point should give pause.

The more obvious: Such designer life forms could have use in warfare. They could be designed as bio-weapons, they could somehow be used as recon or intelligence gathering aids, they could even be used to consume materials that need getting-rid-of. Genetic switching could kill them after use, or in case of 'capture', it could be possible to create genetic switches turning off/on functions at certain times in the organisms' development as they are needed.

This Report gives you an idea of the complexity of the technical and ethical issues involved. I have not had the time to read it in its entirety, but it is well worth it.

One cannot help, when reading all this, the feeling that it has all been done before. Are we terrestrials bio bots?

On the other hand, all this might lead to....