Designer Diseases?

Wordly Huffman whuffman at aol.com
Wed Aug 8 11:18:17 EST 2001

I wrote:

As somebody whose science knowledge comes from reading Popular Science
magazine and an occasional newspaper, it's my impression that
biologists can now root around in the dna of a cell, snipping bits out
and inserting other bits, pretty much like editing a text file with a
word processor.

Have things gotten to the point where biologists can change a
bacterium or virus so that it will become active only if certain
characteristics exist in the host? So that, for example, if somebody
wanted to diminish the number of blue-eyed people, he could alter some
deadly disease so that it did its work only in blue-eyed people?

If the state of the art isn't that far advanced, how soon will it be? 

If it can be done now, what kind of resources does it take: those of a
rogue state? a terrorist group? a single mad scientist?

Michael Witty <mw132 at mole.bio.cam.ac.uk> replied:
>Dear Wordly,
>            this kind of science takes a lot of trial and error which is
>why I work with bacteria - I can make lots of mistakes with them and
>nobody cares.  Also, they have a 20 minute life cycle so I can rapidly
>make some more.  To make a specific disease for a human would take a lot
>of experimenting and trial and error - I am sure _somebody_ would notice
>the mistakes (dead bodies) piling up before a any mad scientist could
>actually get a working model ready.  However, if you give me enough
>money I will of course try for you.  Regards, Mike.

Thanks for the reply, though it doesn't answer my questions about the
likelihood of such a nightmare occurring. Maybe an enterprising
journalist, or a political activist, has some perspective on the

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