Scientists Freak Out Over Pandemic Potential Of Genetically Engineered Smallpox

by | Oct 15, 2018 | Headline News | 18 comments

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    This article was originally published by Tyler Durden at Zero Hedge

    Following the release of a paper earlier this year which describes how researchers stitched together segments of DNA in order to revive horsepox – a previously eradicated virus, scientists have been flipping out over the possibility that bad actors may use the study as a blueprint to revive smallpox.

    The disease killed an estimated 300 million people before the World Health Organization deemed it eradicated following a long vaccination campaign. Thus, the publication of a method for reviving a closely related disease has understandably raised some red flags within the scientific community, reports

    Critics argue that the paper not only demonstrates that you can synthesize a deadly pathogen for what Science reported was about US$100,000 in lab expenses, but even provides a slightly-too-detailed-for-comfort overview of how to do it.

    Some of the horsepox scientists’ coworkers are still pretty upset about this. PLOS One’s sister Journal, PLOS Pathogens, just published three opinion pieces about the whole flap, as well as a rebuttal by the Canadian professors.

    Overall, everyone’s pretty polite. But you get the sense that microbiologists are really, really worried about someone reviving smallpox. –

    Prior to its eradication, smallpox was primarily spread by direct and fairly prolonged face-to-face contact between people. Once the first sores appeared in the mouth and throat (the early rash stage), they were contagious until the last smallpox scab fell off. According to the CDC, “these scabs and the fluid found in the patient’s sores also contained the variola virus. The virus can spread through these materials or through the objects contaminated by them, such as bedding or clothing. People who cared for smallpox patients and washed their bedding or clothing had to wear gloves and take care to not get infected.”

    What would a smallpox bioterror attack look like? Via the CDC:

    Most likely, if smallpox is released into the United States as a bioterrorist attack, public health authorities will find out once the first person sick with the disease goes to a hospital for treatment of an unknown illness. Doctors will examine the person and use tools developed by CDC to figure out if the person’s signs and symptoms are similar to those of smallpox. If doctors suspect the person has smallpox, they will care for the person and isolate them in the hospital so that others do not come in contact with the smallpox virus. The medical staff at the hospital will contact local public health authorities to let them know they have a patient who might have smallpox.

    Local public health authorities would then alert public health officials at the state and federal level, such as CDC, to help diagnose the disease. If experts confirm the illness is smallpox, then CDC, along with state and local public health authorities, will put into place their plans to respond to a bioterrorist attack with smallpox.

    Kevin Esvelt, a biochemist at MIT, wrote on Thursday that the threat is so significant that “it may be wise to begin encouraging norms of caution among authors, peer reviewers, editors, and journalists.” 

    At present, we decidedly err on the side of spreading all information.

    Despite entirely predictable advances in DNA assembly, every human with an internet connection can access the genetic blueprints of viruses that might kill millions.

    These and worse hazards are conveniently summarized by certain Wikipedia articles, which helpfully cite technical literature relevant to misuse.

    Note the deliberate absence of citations in the above paragraph. Citing or linking to already public information hazards may seem nearly harmless, but each instance contributes to a tragedy of the commons in which truly dangerous technical details become readily accessible to everyone.

    Given that it takes just one well-meaning scientist to irretrievably release a technological information hazard from the metaphorical bottle, it may be wise to begin encouraging norms of caution among authors, peer reviewers, editors, and journalists. –PLOS

    Esvelt blamed the media for amplifying the negative potential of smallpox synthesis as well:

    DNA synthesis is becoming accessible to a wide variety of people, and the instructions for doing nasty things are freely available online.

    In the horsepox study, for instance, the information hazard is partly in the paper and the methods they described.

    But it’s also in the media covering it and highlighting that something bad can be done. And this is worsened by the people who are alarmed, because we talk to journalists about the potential harm, and that just feeds into it. –MIT News

    The Canadian professors, meanwhile, shot back at their critics – arguing that smallpox was bound to be synthesized at some point anyway.

    Realistically all attempts to oppose technological advances have failed over centuries.

    We suggest that one should instead focus on regulating the products of these technologies while educating people of the need to plan mitigating strategies based upon a sound understanding of the risks that such work might pose.

    In these discussions, a long-term perspective is essential. –PLOS

    In short, prepare for the Jurassic Park of deadly pathogens and their pandemic potential.


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      1. Why would anyone want to revive Horsepox? I think that anyone who wanted to produce smallpox could. When Edward Jenner was working on a vaccine for smallpox he noticed that dairymaids were immune to smallpox and wondered why. He reasoned it was because they had had cowpox and this is closely related to smallpox therefore giving them immunity. Now horsepox is more serious to have than cowpox. Horse pox treatment can involve giving immunoglobulins and cowpox requires no treatment. Why not use cowpox to inoculate against smallpox? Would be safer. It’s always safer to receive immunity in a natural way.

        • I had multiple small pox vaccinations as a child and none of them “took”.

          Some people have a natural immunity, most don’t. AFIK, there is nothing that is always 100% fatal in a large enough population.

          Does Horsepox, like cowpox, give crossover immunity with smallpox or is it just similar enough to study and try to predict possible results of an outbreak?

          • Nothing is 100% fatal, but if deadly enough it will stem old diseases to resurface and increase kill count via secondary factors because of other failures in the system. Bodies not disposed of, water services discontinued, flies, mice, rats etc.

            People during the Spanish flu still had a clue and could deal with the situation. Imagine the snowflakes today dealing with that?

            • Numbers are in on the Spanish flu.
              1.8 billion world pop
              103.2 US pop
              500 million infected
              50-199 million dead worldwide.
              500,000 dead in US

              If the above happened today proportionally:
              7.5 billion world pop
              328.7 million US pop
              2 billion infected
              208-829 million dead worldwide
              2.1 million dead in US

          • Horsepox is a similar related virus to smallpox and cowpox, so yes it would give immunity to smallpox.

      2. There is only ONE reason why there is GM viruses and bacteria that is fatal to people when they were already beaten…GERM WARFARE. End of Story. the BS about to make better and more effective vaccines for dead and gone bugs to “better protect human kind” is the lamest excuse for why War departments resurrect them. The do so because they WORK and WORK VERY WELL. NO countries Defense Departments have ever created a weapon they did NOT in the future expect to use.

      3. These scientists that dabble in this and the ones who fund them need to be slaughtered now.

      4. “What would a smallpox bioterror attack look like?”

        Blankets, given in the name of charity.

        • Beaumont:

          It WAS charity that motivated the giving of blankets to the Indians. At the time the discovery of germs was not yet made. Physicians did not wash their hands.



            I think that people had a basic knowledge of contagion.

            There are Biblical laws about uncleanliness and Plague ridden corpses were notoriously used to spread the Plague.

            It was considered a vapor or miasma or sometimes a humor, like a body fluid. They knew how to clear the air and where infectious tissue was located, in the body.

            State actors would have been responsible for the blankets incident.

            Now, read what the article is really about —
            “At present, we decidedly err on the side of spreading all information.”

            It’s about a monopoly on information.

            Who was responsible for the spread of contagion.

      5. This level of criminal activity creating death is what the US excels at, maintain full control even if you have to kill off the majority of the world population. The cats out of the bag as people are waking up. More ugly will follow the current ugliness.

      6. Smallpox vaccinations in the US ended around 1976. If weaponized smallpox was released in the US all major metro areas would be quarintined and the mortality rate for those infected under the age of 40 would run around 30 percent. The economic impact would be hard to calculate and the national supply chain would be stopped for an unknown amount of time.

      7. Fleas jumping from rats were the vector for spreading small-pox. Settlers in early America sold blankets infested with fleas that carry small-pox to native Americans, it decimated the Native American population. We no longer live in an agrarian culture, plus a horse and buggy world. I had a dog that lived 14 years that never knew what a flea was. With modern insecticides that include vaccine forms, fleas just aren’t the problem they once were.

        Without a transmission vector the disease is a nonstarter. Unless someone finds a way to make it go airborne it’s just not a threat.

        The real threat is with genetic engineering becoming so easy, a disgruntled employee or biology student could become a genetic hacker.

        This said after a SHTF disaster, nature is often out of wack, there can be blooms in insect or rodent populations that could put you at risk. Having some rat bait and basic insecticides for disease carrying insects is prudent. As is keeping your pets and livestock healthy.

        • Oops, big error on my part, it was the Black Plauge that was spread by rats and fleas. My bad.

          Small Pox was spread by direct contact with bodily fluids including flem from caughing, sneezing and spitting. Puss from the open sores was particularly contagious.

          But again this isn’t the 17th century, we have indoor plumbing, safe water and food sources, rubber gloves, disinfectants, face masks, tyvek bunny suits etc, a careful person could care for the sick and not get it.

          The killer would be if we were in SHTF with limited resources and people crowded together in unsanitary conditions and small pox broke out.

          • Let me expand on the error I just made in my top post. A recent psychology study shows the Internet has made Americans THINK they are smarter than they really are.

            If the Internet dies in a SHTF, do you have the actual correct knowledge, plus text books to get you through?

            The first and most important prepper tool is a clear and well educated brain.

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