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Species-Specific Diseases

Create species-specific diseases based on genetic modifications of Synthia
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  [vote for,

Create a variety of Synthia (see link), which is triggered by the presence of compounds produced by the target species to accelerate its rate of reproduction and to also start producing a toxin. For insects and animals, toxin production should be delayed until the disease has a chance to be spread to other individuals.
The Synthia cells should be programmed to automatically terminate themselves after a preset time, to eliminate the danger of forming a run-away species. The delay would be set to guarantee that all the individuals potentially affectable by an application had been killed. When one of the cells divided, each cell would get a copy of the counter with its current count. In other words, no counter produced by cell division would start its count over, it would continue to be (approximately) synchronized with all the others.
Biological counters have already been created which are claimed to be capable of very larger counts (see link).
The reason for choosing Synthia is that, by design, it has a very minimal genome and therefore should have fewer unexpected side effects and much less ability to evolve, especially within the tightly limited time frames imposed on the custom diseases.
This method should useful against any species except viruses.
Alvin, Nov 15 2011

Synthia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synthia
Synthia article at wikipedia [Alvin, Nov 15 2011]

Biological Counter http://www.bioinfo.de/isb/2006/06/0038/
Biological counter research [Alvin, Nov 15 2011]

Olfactory receptor http://en.wikipedia.../Olfactory_receptor
Olfactory receptor on wikipedia [Alvin, Nov 16 2011]

Genetic engineering to augment mouse pox http://www.ncbi.nlm...gov/pubmed/11152493
Maybe the obesity epidemic is a result of genetically engineered viruses. Its a plot by Archer Daniels Midland! [bungston, Nov 17 2011]


       //When one of the cells divided, each cell would get a copy of the counter with its current count. In other words, no counter produced by cell division would start its count over//   

       Sounds a bit like telomeres to me.   

       (Oh, and when you post a link, be sure to include the "http://" at the start, otherwise the halfbakery doesn't realise you're linking to an external web site.)   

Wrongfellow, Nov 15 2011

       21 Quest,
The idea is not just about creating species-specific diseases, it's about creating diseases which are self-terminating when their task is completed and therefore safe to release in homes and in the wild.

"Synthia" has existed since May 2010.

If you think this is about "GM magic", then why would you ask: "who's to say this isn't one of the uses they already have planned for it?". Do you think that the experts are or would be pursuing magic? Furthermore, one could ask that about any new technology or innovation, and so we could debunk all HB posts as "probably already planned anyway".
Alvin, Nov 16 2011

       //This effort in synthetic biology is being undertaken at the J. Craig Venter Institute// - yah... 'nuff said. [21 Quest]'s [m-f-d] seconded.   

       It is a right rare occasion when he and I agree on much of anything, but I'm also going to support his call that you might re-consider the ASAP posting of every flicker of thought which has ever crossed your cerebrum over the years. If you write them down *elsewhere*, then post them here one at a time, you won't be competing with yourself for readership.   

       (Just remembered - I've never taken [21Q] out of my "filtered" list. I think I'll do that now, while there's someone to replace him.)
lurch, Nov 16 2011

It clearly states in the article that Synthia has already been created. I even read a science article announcing it around that time. There would certainly be further plans for Synthia, but it should be suitable for the use described in this post.

I have read numerous posts here that are incredibly non-sensical yet had many positive votes. That suggests that negative feedback such as this post has received is meaningless.
Alvin, Nov 16 2011

       //negative feedback [...] is meaningless.// You won't understand my criticism unless you know who Craig Venter is.   

       Once you understand that your invention would be, particularly to Dr. Venter's mind, a violation of his intellectual property - *then* you'll begin to understand my criticism.
lurch, Nov 16 2011

       First, there's a huge difference between managing to create self re-producing genes and creating self re-producing genes that actually do something. That's the magic part that everyone above is referring to. Second, if we get to that point, then this idea is already well known and discussed, so it's not a new idea.   

       Next, with regards to the biological counters. As has been mentioned, human cells apparently have exactly this sort of counter, in the form of telomeres. Many cancers are the result of this counter failing in one form or another.   

       What it comes down to, is if you have a bacterium that is able to live and reproduce, it will mutate (you should hear some of my microbiologist colleagues on the subject). Given a large enough population (the millions of bacteria in large animal infection is large enough), those mutations will include a failure of the limiting mechanism, and a transition in the target protein, allowing it to jump species.
MechE, Nov 16 2011

       Synthia is not just "self-reproducing genes" it is a species of bacteria which has had most or all non-essential genes removed, yielding a maximally simplified organism. Therefore, there is no magic required here, just addition of genes which will cause it to respond appropriately to its environment. This has been done many times through scientific means, with no magical intervention.
If there is a serious danger of mutations causing failure of the self-termination feature, it merely needs to be made more fail-safe, perhaps through redundancy.
Alvin, Nov 16 2011

       But the critical creation step in Synthia is that it reproduces itself with human created genes. That's what I was referring to. There is a huge difference between getting that far and getting it to do something specific. You are trying to "magic" through that step.   

       And I repeat, once that step is overcome, there is nothing new in this idea, as tailored bacteria are widely discussed in everything from popular media to technical papers to science fiction.   

       And, no matter how many self limiting techniques you put in, over the reasonable life span required for a bacteria to be effective (thousands to millions of replications) it is going to mutate, and the risk of said mutation invalidating your limiting steps is significant. There is no such thing as fail safe when it comes to biological propagation.
MechE, Nov 16 2011

       Especially with bacteria; they're promiscuous little buggers, and can exchange DNA, without human interference, even with totally unrelated organisms.   

       [Alvin], you may be misunderstanding Synthia. It does not represent the creation of a new, synthetic bacterium; just a repeat of previously successful chromosome transplants, but this time using a chromosome that was entirely synthesized. It's an important proof-of-concept, but not much more.
spidermother, Nov 16 2011

       Lot of negativity; yes. No magic or anything particularly outrageous in this proposal though.   

       /the risk of said mutation invalidating your limiting steps is significant./   

       That is one problem: there will be enormous evolutionary advantage to the organism that mutates its time to death counter. Plus if you put the counter in Roy the Replicant he might come find you and ask you to turn it off. A tip: don't just tell him the reasons you can't. Try something for old Roy. Anything.   

       Another is "presence of compounds produced by the target species". Usually species share their compounds with other related species. It would be hard to be selective. But this could work in a situation where there are not a lot of related species - for example an invasive weed or other species.   

       But the biggest barrier to carrying out what you describe starting with Synthia is that the target species won't let it in. The reason we are not rotting away right now (sniff..sniff..nope, not rotting) is that our immune system can destroy most bacteria that are not evolved to be pathogenic for us, and our commensal bacteria kill off a lot more. Synthia is a lab critter. It does not know kung fu. You need a formidable repertoire of genes and proteins to take on a eukaryotic cell.   

       The more conventional way to do this is start with something that is pathogenic already, has all the stuff it needs to get into the cell, and then tweak it around to be what you want. This sort of thing has been done for decades - it is where most live vaccines come from. This has been done in labs too - I recall reading (probably 2000?) about a virus engineered to make IL-4, which is the settle down signal for lymphocytes. The virus was tremendously virulent as it settled down any lymphocytes coming to get it. Lets see if I can link it up.   

       Keep thinking!
bungston, Nov 17 2011

There would be no selective pressure to favor cells with a defective termination mechanism because it would have no effect at all until the count down was completed.
There would however, be the conceivable danger of a termination mechanism becoming defective and allowing one or more cells to survive its activation. There would be no gradual selection involved in this though.

Added later...
It does sound like augmentation of existing species-specific diseases would be more practical. It should be a fairly straight-forward matter to keep individuals of the target species in a weakened state to keep them more susceptible to diseases, then allow them and the disease germs to develop together: The disease germs would become increasingly resistant to the target species' ever-increasing defenses. It would still be nice to have a auto-termination feature though.
Alvin, Nov 17 2011

       /There would however, be the conceivable danger of a termination mechanism becoming defective and allowing one or more cells to survive its activation. There would be no gradual selection involved in this though./   

       It would not be gradual. It would produce a "founder effect". Imagine that all male humans on earth have that termination mechanism implanted via nefarious scheme. Except you mutated yours when you ate some questionable kebab meat. Termination activated! It would not be pretty. But you sure would be, once the survivors determined you were the only male left in the world. One would predict that in a few generations, every member of your species would count you as an ancestor. I just hope the counter gene was the only thing the kebab mutated, or the species might be pretty different from what it is today - but that's a founder effect for you.
bungston, Nov 17 2011

Although, as I mentioned, the method posted here is probably not as practical as other known methods, there shouldn't be any mutation-related dangers from this more than even normal germs. I think there's a tendency to exagerate remote possibilities until they seem to be the likely outcomes. Kind of like people who gamble or play the lottery --- sure there's a chance of winning, but it's not worth trying to win. I believe use of this method would be worth whatever dangers. In any case, it should be possible to devise sufficient safeguards to make problems almost impossible.
Alvin, Nov 17 2011

       //, there shouldn't be any mutation-related dangers from this more than even normal germs//   

       Take the flu. A common disease that we have been living with and adapting to for millenia. Even so, every year we have to develop a new vaccine, because new strains have mutated.   

       Introducing new disease organisms into our environment is a bad idea. Bacteria mutate very frequently and very effictively. The chance of any particular one of your designer bugs deactivating the timer and becoming lethal probably isn't all that high. But even with the programmed termination, the bug will reproduce millions (billions?) of times. If one such bug deavtivates the timer (or timers), it now has plenty of time to figure out how to spread.   

       Will this happen the first time a designer bug is used? Probably not. But given that the possible cost of such a mutation is millions ill or dying, do you want to take the chance that this time will be the one?
MechE, Nov 17 2011

       The only reason for a timer is if the creators of this bug feel it might pose a risk. I am not sure what circumstances those might be although if "use of this method would be worth whatever dangers." they must be pretty important circumstances. I have a bad feeling this would be some sort of biological weapon of war and Alvin is wily enough not to say that explicitly.   

       If you were making an engineered bug and you didn't care how wild it got there would be no need for a counter mechanism. For example, there exist viruses that infect staph aureus and inactivate the gene that gives staph the ability to make boils. Result: many less boils today than midcentury. Could one do something similar and have a virus that inactivates antibiotic resistance? Staph that are antibiotic resistant are everywhere now. There would be no evolutionary pressure to evade the virus absent antibiotics - infected staph might actually have an advantage because they are not wasting energy on the resistance proteins. But such musings stray far from the ideas set out in this posting.
bungston, Nov 18 2011


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