How to Destroy the Planet

By Eric Roston - 2012-04-20T12:50:43Z

Photograph by Arindam Dey/Demotix/Corbis

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Pandemic Virus

THREAT: Greater availability of cheap DNA synthesis enables evildoers to create and distribute highly lethal viruses.

REALITY: Researchers at SUNY Stony Brook in 2002 ordered a synthesis of the polio virus from a DNA supplier and received it by mail. Since then, governments and investigators have begun working with specialists in a new subdivision of the life sciences called synthetic biology to make sure the field has security measures in place.

Last year the U.S. government blocked two academic studies showing how mutated forms of the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus could be made airborne, for fear the information could be used to create a biological weapon. In March a biosecurity panel said the research posed no danger, paving the way for publication. The threat level is low but evolving.

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