Life scientists are extremely well trained in technology these days…from coding, to hacking instrumentation. And that’s in addition to their deep understanding of genomes and cell biology.
All of this is starting to pay off I think…in a new generation of biotech startups that seem to be short-circuiting the usual angel, venture capital process. FT has a good story on the phenomenon here.
As you’ve probably heard, there are two of them out there drawing a great deal of controversy because they purport to show how to molecularly engineer this deadly flu virus to be more transmissible. Recall, that the global threat from a given flu virus is a function of both mortality rate and transmissibility rate
Now, the US Biosecurity Panel is calling for a second “Asilomar” to consider how to handle such manuscripts in the future, with a publishing moratorium of “perhaps three months”. ScienceInsider has the story here.
As a journal editor, I have a huge stake in how this is handled. On the one hand, open science, is essential to scientific progress. We need to have sufficient information in the manuscript for independent replication of the results, particularly if they are consequential. On the other hand, we don’t want to give the recipe for global catastrophe to an individual (or group) with ill intent.
Ideas that are out there right now converge around the lines of publishing results and holding methods for those parties who are properly vetted (perhaps by the CDC or WHO). But I’m not sure that would work, because the methods of molecular biology are really well-known (see biohackers), and in this case, the results alone, might provide the essential “launch” key.