The H1N1 swine flu pandemic's "second wave" likely will be the long-predicted "perfect microbial storm" - and an equally predictable product of
artifically accelerated evolution.
Artificially Accelerated Evolution in the Twenty-first Century
In 2006 when this material was compiled, publicly accessible data on microbial evolution - and the "perfect microbial storm" - dealt exclusively
with natural organisms. However, chimeras and artificial man-made organisms add to the evolutionary mix, and their roles in the coming 'microbial
storm' need to be considered.
are artificial lifeforms with a
mixture of two or more species in one body - genetically engineered by combining genes from different species. Aside from tomatoes with fish genes,
our world now has a population of man-mice, man-pig, man-monkey and numerous other artificial hybrids. As the most dangerous diseases threatening
mankind today are zoonoses
, or animal
diseases that can be transmitted to humans, the role(s) chimeras might play in the planet's current bio-dynamic cannot be dismissed.
are micro-organisms - part natural, and part "machine" - created by using biotechnology, nanotechnology and computing
technology, sometimes called nano-bio-bots
. 1990's wisdom said that artificial organisms, and their impacts, were 50 to 100 years in the
future. BUT - the main characteristics required for artificial organisms to evolve, and impact natural organisms and natural evolution, all have been
announced publicly over the last few years. These characteristics include self-power, and self-assembly or self-replication.
I now am wondering what role chimeras and artificial organisms are playing in the hybridization and evolution of 'natural' organisms, and the threat
of this coming "perfect microbial storm."
Natural Organisms and "The Perfect Microbial Storm"
2004: Emerging zoonoses and pathogens of public health significance URL
Infectious diseases have helped shape the course of human history and there is every indication that these diseases will continue to be significant
global events. A number of driving forces and societal changes are now creating an unprecedented environment that favours the expansion and perhaps
even acceleration of a group of these diseases termed emerging or re-emerging zoonoses.
In a recent publication by the United States Institute of Medicine entitled Microbial Threats to Health, Emergence, Detection, and Response, the
authors suggested that a group of factors are swirling and converging to create a perfect microbial storm. This metaphor helps describe the conditions
and dynamics that have produced a new era of emerging diseases that began approximately 25 years ago. From the centre, or eye, of the perfect
microbial storm, a group of zoonotic pathogens of significant public health concern are emerging.
Microbes continue to evolve and adapt and now, with the tremendous acceleration and expansion of global trade, human movement and travel and the
burgeoning global population of both people and animals, the microbes have an even greater opportunity to adapt, change, and be transported to new
hosts and ecosystems, often with catastrophic results. Changes in our weather, climate, ecosystem, animal production systems, economic development,
and land use continue to alter the dynamic between hosts, vectors, and microbes in novel ways.
Also see: 2005: Steps must be taken to turn tide of public-microbial war
Artificial Organisms and "The Perfect Microbial Storm"
Animal-Human Hybrids URL
Scientists have begun blurring the line between human and animal by producing chimeras - a hybrid creature that's part human, part animal. ...human
cells with rabbit eggs... pigs with human blood... mice with human brains
"Research projects that create human-animal chimeras risk disturbing fragile ecosystems, endanger health, and affront species integrity."
"One doesn't have to be religious or into animal rights to think this doesn't make sense," (says Jeremy Rifkin). "It's the scientists who want
to do this. They've now gone over the edge into the pathological domain." "
"Breakthroughs" in Nano- and Biotechnology - a Few Highlights
...a new class of organisms is likely to emerge. These organisms will be artificial in the sense that they will originally be designed by
humans. However, they will reproduce, and will "evolve" into something other than their original form, they will be "alive" under any reasonable
definition of the word. ...The pace of evolutionary change will be extraordinarily rapid. ...The impact on humanity and the biosphere could be
enormous, larger than the industrial revolution, nuclear weapons, or environmental pollution. We must take steps now to shape the emergence of
Source: Articifial Life: The Coming Evolution. Farmer, J. Doyne, and Alletta d'A. Belin in Artificial Life II from Santa Fe Institute
Studies in the Sciences of Complexity, Proc. Vol. X, Redwood City Calif.: Addison-Wesley, 1992, p. 815.
Tiny robots powered by living muscle have been created by scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles. ...The devices were formed by
"growing" rat cells on microscopic silicon chips, the researchers report in the journal Nature Materials. ...Less than a millimetre long, the
miniscule robots can move themselves without any external source of power.
"Nanotech researchers have built tiny self-assembling machines that even grow their own muscles from cells taken from living animals.
...Besides just blurring the line between organism and machine, the first of these nano-bio-bots may signal a breakthrough in how to mass produce
bio-machines: The hybrid devices were grown on silicon chips using the same principles and some of the same technology employed to make integrated
circuits. ...The work is a dramatic example of the marriage of biotechnology with the tiny world of nanotechnology. ...the cells assemble, then they
undergo a change, so that they actually form a muscle. ..."Now you have a device that has a skeleton and muscles on it to allow it to move."
...Under a microscope, you can see the tiny, two-footed "bio-bots" crawl around.
"I can make hundreds of thousands as easily as I can make one," said lead nanotechnology researcher Carlo Montemagno of the University of
California, Los Angeles. ..."They're absolutely alive," Professor Montemagno told BBC News. "I mean the cells actually grow, multiply
and assemble - they form the structure themselves. So the device is alive."
Fly-eating robot powers itself URL
Customizable, Self-assembling Nanotubes
"One of the projects DARPA is currently supporting is work by a team at Michigan State University's College of Engineering, who are developing
reconfigurable micro-robots for use in military, intelligence and law enforcement ...."
Pentagon plans cyber-insect army URL
The Pentagon's defence scientists want to create an army of cyber-insects that can be remotely controlled to check out explosives and send
transmissions. ...The idea is to insert micro-systems at the pupa stage, when the insects can integrate them into their body, so they can be remotely
controlled later. ...A similar scheme aimed at manipulating wasps failed when they flew off to feed and mate.
Ed. Note: What happened to the wasps - and their nano-parts - after they "flew off to feed and mate"? ...re: Honey bee crisis?
"The combined integration of PNI and gold with silicon-based microdevices has allowed us to fabricate the world's first self-assembled
muscle-powered micro-robot system to piezoelectric materials which produce electricity when compressed. If successful this will allow glucose,
described as a ubiquitous renewable resource, to be used to create power.
Solar Nano-Power URL
"These flexible photovoltaics could harness half of the sun's spectrum not previously accessed." ..."We made particles from semiconductor
crystals which were exactly two, three or four nanometres in size. .." ...Then, they tuned the tiny nanocrystals to catch light at very short
wavelengths. ..."The key was finding the right molecules to wrap around our nanoparticles... Too long and the particles couldn't deliver their
electrical energy to our circuit; too short, and they clumped up, losing their nanoscale properties. It turned out that one nanometer eight carbon
atoms strung together in a chain was 'just right'."
Super Microbes Eat Radioactive Waste URL ...sponsors at the Energy Department
doubt the public is ready for the release of this laboratory-engineered bug into the environment. It might eat nuclear wastes, but they worry about
what else might it do...
Molecular evolution by design URL
A group at UIUC has announced a process that may be called managed evolution. It involves using multiple steps where by successive
approximation they evolve a protein in the direction of having the properties they desire. This significantly reduces the amount of labor involved in
the evolution and screening process.
The authors conclude that their new method may provide "a general approach to engineering biomolecules and biosystems such as receptors, enzymes,
antibodies, ribosymes, DNAzymes and viruses with novel functions."
The notion that the world around us is continuously evolving is a platitude; we rarely grasp its full implications. We do not ordinarily think,
for example, of an epidemic disease changing its character as the epidemic spreads. Nor do we think of evolution in plants and animals ocurring in a
matter of days or weeks, although it does. And we do not ordinarily imagine the green world around us as a scene of constant, sophisticated chemical
warfare, with plants producing pesticides in response to attack, and insects developing resistance. But that is what happens, too.
If we were to grasp the true nature of nature - if we could comprehend the real meaning of evolution - then we could envision a world in which
every living plant, insect, and animal species is changing at every instant, in response to every other living plant, insect, and animal.
This restless and perpetual change, as inexorable and unstoppable as the waves and tides, implies a world in which all human actions necessarily have
uncertain effects. The total system we call the biosphere is so complicated that we cannot know in advance the consequences of anything that we do.
...That is why even our most enlightened past efforts have had undesirable outcomes - either because we did not understanbd enough, or because the
ever-changing world responded to our actions in unexpected ways.
Sometime in the twenty-first century, our self-deluded recklessness will collide with our growing technological power. One area where this will occur
is in the meeting point of nanotechnology, biotechnology, and computer technology. What all three have in common is the ability to release
self-replicating entities into the environment.
Source: Prey. (c) 2002 by Michael Crichton. Inroduction.
In the Golem project (Genetically Organized Lifelike Electro Mechanics) URL we conducted a set of
experiments in which simple electro-mechanical systems evolved from scratch to yield physical locomoting machines. Like biological lifeforms whose
structure and function exploit the behaviors afforded by their own chemical and mechanical medium, our evolved creatures take advantage of the nature
of their own medium - thermoplastic, motors, and artificial neurons. We thus achieve autonomy of design and construction using evolution in a
limited universe physical simulation, coupled to off-the-shelf rapid manufacturing technology. This is the first time robots have been robotically
designed and robotically fabricated.
Also see: The New Military
Nanotechnology and biotechnology are BIG business - and most new "consumer products" contain nanoparticles. So any fears that nanoparticles might
escape are practically groundless. We're already buying the little suckers - paying
to rub them on our faces, eat them, and spray them in our
homes. ...Our only defense here is claiming "lack of fully informed consent."
But - the nanoparticles used in consumer products probably were not designed to self-assemble and replicate. They might anyway, and they might
hybridize in nature with microbes, but they weren't designed to.
Arguably though, the real problem comes from nano-bio-bots designed to self-assemble, replicate and self-power, and from genetically engineered
Presumably, the laboratories where they are made are constructed to prevent their escape.
But can we guarantee that nano-bio-bots and artifical organisms don't escape from commercial laboratories? How?
IMO - the opposite
is pretty much guaranteed: nano-bio-bots and other artificial organisms have
escaped, and are replicating in the
Assuming nano-bio-bots and artificial organisms have escaped from the lab, are they cross-breeding with natural microbes to exacerbate the coming
"perfect microbial storm"?
Researched and written in 2006. More here: The Perfect Microbial Storm