Articles, Blog

Engineered Viruses Are the New Biological Weapons, Here’s What You Need to Know

December 19, 2019

Microbes are microscopic organisms that we
use to bake bread, brew beer, and lately, engineer with synthetic DNA to create new
biological systems. In this world of synthetic biology, a microbe
is seen as a chassis – or a structural frame to add genes & DNA. It’ll get tested and have its performance
improved, so it can hopefully do something useful for the world. Yet this potential to modify living organisms
and steer them towards global problems is often met with a dark side. It’s a swing between promise and total peril,
and sometimes called “the halfpipe of doom”. To understand why this framing exists, we
have to go back to the early 2000s The Human Genome project was nearing the finish
line. And scientists had new molecular tools to
dream up promising applications. And, a major terrorist attack hit New York
City. “There it is the plane went right through
the other tower of the World Trade Center. In just a weeks time, we have had four confirmed
cases with anthrax all with media connections and a number of anthrax scares as well.” At that point, synthetic biology became a
potential tool for a whole new kind of weapon. When most people think about a bio weapon
they think about some kind of organism, you might think about anthrax bacteria or the
smallpox virus, and that is your weapon. But turning an organism into a lethal pathogen
that can do predictable harm requires more sophistication. Not only do you have to have a pathogen, but
then you have to actually know how to reliably hold it, grow it, and then determine ways
that you can effectively disseminate it so that the bacteria or toxin wouldn’t be destroyed. After World War I, multiple state governments
launched their own biological weapons programs, as a research endeavor and stockpiling counter-measure. That’s probably one of the most sort of top
secret pieces of our former bioweapons program is that formulation of how you keep these
things stable to survive as a weapon. These things are living organisms, so they
are very finicky. In the Soviet biological weapons program,
they tried to create a plague bacteria that was resistant to several different antibiotics. They created this super, duper plague weapon,
but actually it was a horrible weapon because it would just die. They couldn’t have it survive in the environment. With this focused experimentation, scientists
ended up creating enough bioweapons to kill every person on the planet. But luckily, national governments signed a
treaty to ban biological weapons. Decades later, huge investments in genetics
made the tools and techniques cheaper and more accessible. Enough for it to be possible to create an
engineered synthetic pathogen. And that’s why synthbio, and its quest to
make biology easier to engineer set off alarm bells. In 2002, a group of scientists from the State
University of New York at Stony Brook created the first artificial polio virus, synthetically,
not using any natural viral components, so that was a real radical innovation. At that time, a congressman picked up the
New York Times that day, read about this artificial synthesis of the polio virus, and really got
freaked out. Then, a lot of other federal entities got
concerned about what happened here. Did we slip up? Should we have done more to have oversight
over this? This polio virus study was actually funded
by DARPA, an agency within the U.S. government. All this controversy came out: is this experiment
a blueprint for bio terrorism? I became very interested in sort of really
wondering is that the case? Is it now that easy to create the pathogen
from scratch? And, I was, I wasn’t sure. There was a lot of focus on the materials
that the scientists basically could buy commercially to do their experiments, the fact that they
could download information off of the internet, so it wasn’t really anything that required
highly sophisticated material or equipment. But there’s more to this particular story. I thought it would be interesting to go and
interview the scientists involved. And what was really fascinating is once I
started kind of probing a little bit about the experiment, they suddenly came to describe
this later part, which actually required a significant amount of expertise. Basically if you couldn’t do that part of
the experiment, the experiment would fail. You couldn’t actually create the artificial
polio virus. But you wouldn’t know that by reading any
of the newspaper reports. You wouldn’t know that even by reading the
scientific paper itself. And that widely unreported part involved a
famous cell line…and cow serum. To make this artificial virus, it actually
requires, a very rigorous level of purity of these HeLa cell extracts. These HeLa cells are grown in this cow serum. When they’ve tried to do this experiment using
cow serum bought at different times of the year, that can actually cause a failure in
experiments. They’re hypothesizing because they’re not
really sure, but maybe in these different times of the year, these cows are eating different
kinds of things, and that at a very micro level in the cell actually makes a huge difference. From my perspective, I would just like to
see more robust kinds of assessments on these technologies instead of the quick jump to
go, “Oh my god, materials, equipment. A garage lab, oh my god, something bad is
going to happen.” And instead sort of really trying to parse
out, “Okay, what is becoming more easy? What is becoming more difficult? Because that is the issue. For example with the polio virus experiment
that part of the experiment that was difficult is still difficult today. Nothing, over 18 years, nothing has changed
to make that easier. So expertise is really key here. But even the experts understand that there
are legitimate security vulnerabilities with a rapidly advancing field like synthetic biology. The National Academies of Science released
a major report on it, with a ranked list of threat concerns. High on the list is recreating known pathogenic
viruses and making existing bacteria more dangerous, lowest is modifying the human genome
with gene drives. Some suggestions in the report involve developing
detection tools & computational approaches that can better screen for any rogue engineered
organisms. And this is exactly what Ginkgo Bioworks,
a synthetic organism factory, is working on. The goal of the Felix program is to determine
whether a piece of DNA, a sequence of DNA on a computer, is genetically engineered,
or not. IARPA has funded many different performers
across the US to take a crack at this problem. And we’re all taking very, very different
approaches. You can slice these kind of signatures of
engineering in a number of different ways. So some organisms are 80% AT. Some are 80% GC. What this means is that if you take the DNA
from different organisms, and glue them together, and you’re counting the A’s, C’s, T’s, and
G’s. Eventually, if you’re looking at DNA that’s
been glued together from disparate sources, you’ll see some major swing in those statistics. To investigate these signatures, they’re
pooling together data from their own experiments into this massive database for algorithms
to then do what they do best. We’ve developed AI’s that can manipulate all
of these different styles of genetic engineering, and generate the data for us. So far, they’ve simulated five million synthetic
genomes as a training ground for these machine learning algorithms. The main goal here is to build up a bio-security
sector, along with the advance of genetic engineering. So that, unlike in the case of cyber-security,
that we’re ready when threats actually emerge. It’s a smart way to get out front on the
issue, by leveraging the field’s advanced tools and techniques as part of the security
solution. We’re quizzed, and tested, regularly with
blind samples. There are a number of testing and evaluation
teams, which come out of the national labs. They are genetically engineering organisms
in their laboratories, sequencing them, and sending us blinded samples of all kinds of
weird natural organisms, as well as genetically engineered organisms. This happens about every seven or eight months. And we have to report back to them which data
sets have been engineered, and which ones haven’t. Initiatives like this will continue to take
shape as an industry forms around synthetic biology. Because the technology needed to recreate
and remix DNA sequences is here, and resurrecting extinct viruses in synthetic form for new
medical therapies is part of the field’s evolution. The 2002 poliovirus might have been the first,
but it won’t be the last. There are so many laboratories worldwide that
use materials and equipment for basic academic research for positive beneficial industry
related research, for clinical applications. There’s not an easy point in the life sciences
where you can say, “Well, this is weapons and it’s bad. And this is research and applications and
it’s good.” This duality goes straight to the heart of
the field, to the microbes themselves. There are millions of them in our world with
dual use, some can make us dangerously sick, and some can fight disease. It’s a wide continuum presented to us by
nature itself, and ultimately up to us to navigate through.


  • Reply azsxdcfvgbhnjmhn September 16, 2019 at 10:36 am

    2:25 Hey Vsauce! michael here.

  • Reply Jean Q Nguyen September 16, 2019 at 11:10 am

    Another video again about the same company sounds like a giant ad for upcoming IPO

  • Reply INERT September 16, 2019 at 11:17 am

    My taint bakes bread. I got a loaf rising as we speak.

  • Reply El Psy September 16, 2019 at 11:57 am

    This is why Human DNA engineering is necessary. We can't stop people from doing research. We can only protect ourselves with our own research.

  • Reply Priyan Saikia September 16, 2019 at 12:00 pm

    Imgaine a Flood like parasite from Halo. That would be devastating

  • Reply elitas2cents September 16, 2019 at 12:03 pm

    It only takes one nut-case and mankind goes extinct.

  • Reply Phenochs Mundala September 16, 2019 at 1:14 pm

    I wonder how much of a threat Botox is!?

  • Reply AMtelVidia September 16, 2019 at 3:19 pm

    Wow uploaded right when my first year as a biology student is starting

  • Reply dildos go uwu September 16, 2019 at 3:48 pm

    All we ever asked for was for musk to create catgirls…

  • Reply MrOhitsujiza September 16, 2019 at 4:49 pm

    Ah yes classic scientists, making virus-weapons instead of my plasmids and gene tonics.
    I just want to be able to charge my phone myself and start a fire with the snap of my fingers!

  • Reply Maquina Ghost September 16, 2019 at 4:58 pm


  • Reply Angela Day September 16, 2019 at 5:35 pm

    Humanity is at a point of Fundamental change. Where we're gonna have to decide side Going backwards or going forward. If we go backwards will die. Too much of our technology has changed to become dangerous.

    If we go forward we live, But we're gonna have to change every aspect of what we are in order to live in a technologically advanced future with a planets it's going through a polar shift.

  • Reply Manny区 September 16, 2019 at 5:39 pm

    Its quite funny how americans nuked Japan and are so freaked out about 9/11, this is the level of control their government has over them

  • Reply ctrl alt September 16, 2019 at 5:45 pm

    About to 3D print Ebola

  • Reply Wei Quan Wong September 16, 2019 at 7:30 pm

    2:26 Hey Vsause, Michael here.

  • Reply Big Pearl September 16, 2019 at 7:43 pm

    Dwhite ppl come up with the most demonic shit…

  • Reply Junior Jetseter September 16, 2019 at 8:30 pm

    Bio weapons are very old as old as going to the medieval ages when during the wars the army catapulted dead infected corpses into the castle that walls withstood the invasion.
    A person doesn't have to be a genius or hi IQ quotient to see the potential .
    The terrorists can come up with an idea of injecting & infecting the people on a suiside mission and get send to a targeted country as a tourists, refugees from regions of natural disasters. People could just be used by the " Men in white " that under pretense of immunization could infect refugees with premeditation and their evil agenda in mind.
    With supperfast acting viruses like Ebola, by the time the treatment has any effect it is already too late.
    Then there is an idea of Nanotechnology microdrones that have human face recognition and can deliver the biological weapons or target a one specific individual in croud of thousands.
    It is better to be prepared for this kind of eventuality.

  • Reply Sina Azartash September 16, 2019 at 9:47 pm

    Why are we making them?! If we use bioweapons, they will spread.
    Antibiotic resistant plauge?!!! They will destroy humanity.

  • Reply Liza Tanzawa September 16, 2019 at 10:44 pm

    Oh, great. But we can't make carbon-gobbling stuff in our basement

  • Reply Lofi-Life September 16, 2019 at 10:46 pm

    Why do I feel like playing last of us after watching this?

  • Reply Beach&BoardFan September 17, 2019 at 12:12 am

    Good bye to all the suckers that did the 23&me bullshit, say hello to your own custom illnesses.

  • Reply Travels World September 17, 2019 at 2:01 am

    Westerners biased opinions about their scientific theory and religions culture and they can’t go more than 2000 years time of rap pest freaking controlling engineering culture

  • Reply James Wallace September 17, 2019 at 3:29 am

    Synthetic biology
    Also can significantly increase human life expectancy
    Therefore creating a need to make space colonies a necessity.

  • Reply PAUL EDWARD ALVAREZ September 17, 2019 at 7:34 am

    "We're ready when threats come out" – scary thought

  • Reply Anthony Allen September 17, 2019 at 11:47 am

    We use the term A.I. loosely. I would say the items used in the at/gc mapping is just an algorithm running on some automation.

  • Reply Yakin Jaleta September 17, 2019 at 1:13 pm

    I worked in Oncolytic Virotherapy research where we engineer viruses for anti-cancer therapy. I think the video is spreading hysteria a bit. Most of these viruses are severely attenuated and are almost definitely being harnessed for human benefit. Also, manipulating viral genomes can only work so far as they have evolved for centuries to their wild Type form making alternations difficult even for “bioterrorism.”

  • Reply Aditya Singh September 17, 2019 at 1:25 pm

    We have to prepare for the t virus (resident evil)

  • Reply Bazzralic September 17, 2019 at 7:37 pm

    I'm gonna be a billionaire by engineering yearly flu and releasing vaccines.

    Dont forget your flu shots, Vaxxer$!

  • Reply kylie Lax September 18, 2019 at 3:27 am

    Didn’t aids start as a biological weapon?

  • Reply Andy Spaceishere September 18, 2019 at 6:54 pm

    Should have actually talked about Lymes disease being a man made disease

  • Reply HarDiMonPetit September 18, 2019 at 7:47 pm

    We love horror. It would be a miracle if only 10% of us survive to it a century from now.

  • Reply John Brown September 18, 2019 at 7:59 pm

    Watch the radicals

  • Reply Alexander Salz September 18, 2019 at 8:00 pm

    as if this world isnt fucked up enough already

  • Reply John Brown September 18, 2019 at 8:05 pm

    Lowest is the human genome… priorities ?‍♀️

  • Reply nunya September 18, 2019 at 8:15 pm

    This is how we're all going to die.

  • Reply john ellis September 18, 2019 at 8:59 pm

    I love that the bioengineer totally burns the computer guys

  • Reply Junior Jetseter September 19, 2019 at 6:47 pm

    Looks like Mosquito has bean weaponized just reassently that can kill Horse !

  • Reply Andafer September 20, 2019 at 11:56 pm

    hi! is there any other platform in which i can watch your videos? I wanna stop using youtube

  • Reply Kyrlics September 21, 2019 at 4:29 pm

    Why are we bio-engineering viruses…. Stupid humans.
    Should be bio-engineering yeast for better bread.

  • Reply altrag September 22, 2019 at 8:07 pm

    Spreading polio? I guess its time to label anti-vaxxers as bioweapons!

  • Reply Charlton Tupou September 24, 2019 at 2:54 pm

    this shit is dangerous!! Biological weapons cannot be controlled at all and pose a threat to man kind literally..

  • Reply Adarsh Amrit September 25, 2019 at 4:18 pm

    Love the way of explanation….!!!!

  • Reply Red panda September 25, 2019 at 5:04 pm

    Or they can just dig up of the dead people in green land they are affected with the Spanish flue it’s a “Free/Natural virus like the black plaque”

  • Reply Saosaq Ii September 26, 2019 at 2:14 am

    I’m pretty sure bill gates said something similar once…

    The thing to wipe out humans is another plague.

    We are much more densely populated than before… it wouldn’t take long for an entire city to just drop dead.

  • Reply DangerZone September 26, 2019 at 10:39 pm

    You guys have 4M subs, and you STILL make your titles clickbait for no reason? Your content is good in general, stop the "HERES WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW" crap its pathetic

  • Reply Kuro Azrem September 27, 2019 at 4:05 am

    Moral of the story: Don´t mess with nature.

  • Reply Thabang Tukule September 27, 2019 at 8:37 pm

    Some micros can make drugs for us

  • Reply wara wiri September 28, 2019 at 4:12 pm

    Soo.. which tyrant do you guys want to developer first?? Nemesis or mr.x?

  • Reply Blaze September 29, 2019 at 12:23 am

    Why not just use bacteriophages? To fight bacteria?

  • Reply Vaku Zaku September 29, 2019 at 2:34 am

    Why even make such wapon

  • Reply Chris Summers September 30, 2019 at 7:36 am

    Microbes – microsoopic organisms -bake bread. Brew beer
    Biological weapons program

    Different aeasons. Cows diet

  • Reply Desean Green October 2, 2019 at 6:18 am

    This is not good the rich just got invisible.

  • Reply DHIRAJ MALEKAR October 3, 2019 at 6:52 am


  • Reply Matt Calza October 3, 2019 at 12:15 pm

    Generalized self management in everyday life. Serendipity. We must experiment.

  • Reply Kuro Kun October 5, 2019 at 6:40 am

    5:08 cow: What the fvck did you just say Bitch?

  • Reply Love Life7 October 6, 2019 at 11:50 am

    Pls don't start another war on another country on suspicion of WMD. Think about karma.

  • Reply george lopera October 6, 2019 at 7:25 pm

    You are making microbes we are making immunity to microbes genetic immunity.

  • Reply waspen wisp October 7, 2019 at 11:42 am

    Greenland: finally, a worthy opponent, our battle will be legendary

  • Reply moneymaker2dx October 10, 2019 at 2:08 am

    Wecolme we are The Division

  • Reply Mal-2 KSC October 11, 2019 at 12:34 am

    2:26 Vsauce! Michael here…

  • Reply tyson chonzena October 11, 2019 at 12:34 am


  • Reply Morty October 12, 2019 at 4:58 am

    Who wants to bet AIDS was an accident created in a lab and was covered up cause of the damage it caused.

  • Reply HELLO THERE RANDOM NOOB October 13, 2019 at 1:44 am

    Lord please don't make this real amen ?

  • Reply TheHueisOver™ October 15, 2019 at 10:24 pm

    Cmon guys its not anyone is really gonna make this, they signed a TREADY™

  • Reply Blake Lowe October 16, 2019 at 5:18 am

    Finka and Lion guys c'mon

  • Reply RomanTheRanger October 16, 2019 at 10:50 pm

    Where Fucked cunts

  • Reply abaabaaba October 18, 2019 at 2:53 am

    Zombies: In b4 flying cars

  • Reply Achmad K October 19, 2019 at 2:12 pm

    Pure evil

  • Reply Crationol - Beatbox October 20, 2019 at 10:44 am

    this is like hardcore Minecraft l o l

  • Reply Jack da ‘alf brain ork October 24, 2019 at 3:07 am

    Since the dawn of time
    humanity has tried to make a weapon out of everything

  • Reply To the Horror October 26, 2019 at 9:04 am

    The actual fear is: anti-vaxxers as the carriers.

  • Reply Shubham Singh October 27, 2019 at 3:12 pm

    2:26 so this is what VSauce did 69 years ago

  • Reply Andreo Suro October 29, 2019 at 4:27 am

    давайте вы не будете пиздить :))) искустеных микробов они делают :))) вы даже митохондрию или рибосому не сделаете никогда… если только в Unreal engine :)))

  • Reply Andreo Suro October 29, 2019 at 4:32 am

    все эти устойчивые штамы сибирских язв и тд создавали поди обычной селекцией, гасили бактерии антибиотиками и отбирали выживших, вот и вся суперпупернаука :)) думаю что так же можно не дающие потомство сельхозкультуры селекционировать… пиздите ведь всё, шайтаны :)))

  • Reply Andreo Suro October 29, 2019 at 4:35 am

    слышал балду что ДНК в митохондриях одной и той же клетки различно… че вот там можно склеить, сплайсить и тд??? в одной клетке этого всего больше чем денег во всем ФРС…

  • Reply Daryl Halliday October 29, 2019 at 6:36 am

    This is what scares me more than anything else, micro-organisms will wipe humanity out completely if we aren't careful. Forget about nuclear threat,this is were it's at.

  • Reply Doug G October 29, 2019 at 6:51 am

    Hela cells come from one lady

  • Reply The Woken one October 31, 2019 at 2:35 am

    This is were chlamydia gonnarhea and all stds Nd stis come from they new people having sex would populate the world in numbers and that’s against their agenda so they made things to kill our reproductive systems just wow I fear the Feds govt more than I fear god

  • Reply cattigereyes1 November 2, 2019 at 12:59 pm

    Let’s see Mankind plays god and …..

  • Reply nazart November 3, 2019 at 10:36 pm

    I volunteer to be a bio weapon, the weapon to surpass metal gear!!

  • Reply My Divinity Is Within November 9, 2019 at 3:01 pm

    Over 100k views and yet we still have dummies who believe in vaccines. As if they haven't figured out yet that the government is AND HAS BEEN CREATING THESE VIRUSES, AND THEN PUTTING OUT "TEST" VACCINES TO SEE IF THEY REALLY WORK!!! No need for tin foil hats anymore when you have videos like this!

  • Reply Xavier Lopez November 9, 2019 at 4:47 pm

    why make weapons when you can utilize this technology to basically do an absolute ridiculous amount of things

  • Reply PuffinTuff November 11, 2019 at 1:20 am

    Engineered Viruses aren't new yo.

  • Reply Kyle Vin November 11, 2019 at 11:54 pm

    cant we make an extremely malicious virus that spreads very fast and only affects arabs?

  • Reply Jhul Vincent Calabia November 12, 2019 at 1:10 pm

    The world engages in Biological (warfare Insert 28 weeks later theme)

  • Reply Jeremy Cornwell November 12, 2019 at 3:58 pm

    Designer dog's – Designer diseased

  • Reply Nathan Connolly November 13, 2019 at 4:46 am

    As someone who works in this field: this video is ridiculous these people have no idea what they're talking about. This is poor content. Why do all these news channels exist? A bunch of journalists who don't understand anything about the things they are reporting on. This video serves only to scare the public and to make money for seeker without actually creating a discussion about what the actual issues are.

  • Reply O November 13, 2019 at 9:39 am

    Funny, the US military has a long history of biological experimentation and warfare.

  • Reply Willy VR November 15, 2019 at 9:20 pm

    I would farm mosquitos and then infect them with the shit so they spread it by eating

  • Reply NULL USERNAME November 18, 2019 at 7:18 pm

    The Division becomes a reality.

  • Reply Jasper Gomez November 22, 2019 at 8:41 pm


  • Reply Grim Alpha November 27, 2019 at 4:51 pm

    Plauge Inc.

  • Reply Sir ChucklenutsTM November 27, 2019 at 5:18 pm

    The Gray Death is a nano-virus used by Majestic 12 in Deus Ex as part of their plan to take over the world.

  • Reply will brito November 28, 2019 at 8:02 am

    DARPA Bio Weapons Era…Someone call Snake!

  • Reply Free China December 1, 2019 at 4:34 am

    The Chinese Communist party are developing biological weapons that target Caucasian people!!!

  • Reply Tim Lubin December 2, 2019 at 7:15 pm

    This series is the best!!!

  • Reply Aiden Adams December 2, 2019 at 7:39 pm

    my high ass thought that was some dank bud

  • Reply R.D. outlaw December 3, 2019 at 6:36 am

    Death so many ways to destroy humanity ! Shall we play !

  • Reply arwinny najib December 6, 2019 at 3:52 am

    I engineer and level up Clotridium Botulinum??, so the toxins is more deadly and dangerous.

  • Reply rozynmike December 7, 2019 at 6:13 am

    Hmmm, HIV? I hope that wasn't made.

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