Malware (Ch. 20) – Bionic Bug Podcast Episode 020

Hey everyone, welcome back to Bionic Bug podcast! You’re listening to episode 20. This is your host Natasha Bajema, fiction author, futurist, and national security expert. I’m recording this episode on September 9, 2018.

No personal updates today since I just recorded an episode yesterday. Let’s jump right in to the tech news. My first headline is “Researchers to Release Genetically Engineered Mosquitoes in Africa for First Time” published in Scientific American on September 5.

  • Up to 10,000 bugs could be deployed. Okay, you all know how I feel about bugs, right?
  • Let’s delve into the article. What’s happening here?
    • “The government of Burkina Faso granted scientists permission to release genetically engineered mosquitoes. This is part of broad efforts to use bioengineering to eliminate malaria in the region.”
    • “This will be the first time that any genetically engineered animal is released into the wild in Africa.”
    • “Genetically engineered mosquitoes have already been released in places like Brazil and the Cayman Islands, though animals with gene drives have never been released in the wild.”
  • “Teams in three African countries—Burkina Faso, Mali, and Uganda—are building the groundwork to eventually let loose “gene drive” mosquitoes, which would contain a mutation that would significantly and quickly reduce the mosquito population.”
  • What are gene drives?
    • We’ve been tinkering with genetics for thousands of years. Think about the examples of livestock breeding or dog breeding.
    • A gene drive is a technique that promotes the inheritance of a particular gene to increase its prevalence in the population.
    • During normal reproduction, two versions of a gene has a 50 percent chance of being inherited by a particular offspring
    • Gene drives circumvent these traditional rules and greatly increase the odds that the desired gene will be passed on to offspring
    • In other words, gene drives could alter the traits of entire populations of organisms.
  • My first thought was “what could possibly go wrong?” Mosquitoes are bad. And malaria is a leading killer of human populations in developing countries. Then I thought about what Michael Crichton’s Dr. Ian Malcolm would say. A few quotes come to mind:
    • “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”
    • “If there’s one thing the history of evolution has taught us, it’s that life will not be contained. Life breaks free, it expands to new territories, and crashes through barriers painfully, maybe even dangerously, but, uh, well, there it is.”
  • “Gene Editing: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)”
    • John Oliver did a stint about gene editing on July 1, which is hilarious and offers some good info about CRISPR and gene drives. It also features (makes fun of) my recent podcast guest, Dr. Josiah Zayner, who has expressed his amusement at making it onto John Oliver’s show. My favorite part is when Dr. George Church, a famous geneticist, is asked if it would be possible to create a unicorn. I think I nearly fell of my chair, laughing at the look on his face and his answer. It’s definitely worth a watch.

My second headline is “Russia, US Are In a Military Exoskeleton Race” published on August 30 by Patrick Tucker at Defense One.

  • This caught my attention primarily because the plot in Project Gecko revolves around a military battle suit race between the U.S. and China.
  • For years, the U.S. SOCOM has been developing TALOS, the next generation battle suit. The suit will integrate many emerging technologies, but also include an exoskeleton which will improve soldiers’ strength, agility and endurance.
  • Russia is developing its own suit called the Ratnik-3 and has already tested a prototype.
  • The limiting factor in the advancement of both suits appears to be current battery technologies.

Let’s turn to Bionic Bug. Last week, Lara had a strange meeting with John Fiddler, the mysterious scientist behind the bionic bugs. But it didn’t turn out the way she thought. Let’s find out what happens next.

The views expressed on this podcast are my own and do not reflect the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.

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