Bioterrorism: A Stark Reality
Natural mutations in the genetic code can be small, inconsequential changes and take a period of time to develop. It is relative based on what piece of genetic information is changed. However, viruses and pathogenic bacteria may have their DNA intentionally changed to fit the purposes of man. This is made possible through researchers who have mapped and published the genome of various pathogens, making it easily accessible to anyone else who is researching the same type of pathogen.
However, the threat of using the genomes of pathogens as a means of warfare, is real, intimate, and longstanding. Remember, the Native Americans who were not exposed to smallpox before the arrival of the Europeans? During the French-Indian war, at the siege of Fort Pitt, English soldiers gave blankets infected with smallpox to nearby Indian tribes. Another example of bioterrorism happened during the Middle Ages, when victims of the Black Plague were flung over castle walls by the encroaching enemy.
Lesson learned, bioterrorism is real. Except, instead of flinging bodies of infected people over castle walls, humans are using more advanced techniques.Ken Alibek, a well-renown Russian scientist who defected from the Soviet Union in 1990's and has published books on the advanced methods of biowarfare and the Russian Biological Weapons Program, in which he played an integral role.
What does bioterrorism have to do with genetic mutations? Knowing the genome of a pathogen and how it functions leaves open a lot of possibilities for altering traits or making "super bugs." Let's take smallpox, for example. It is a stable virus which lasts in the environment for a long time, has the ability to remain in people for a long period of time, and is highly infectious. Ebola, while an extremely virulent disease, cannot survive long outside of the host. It only thrives for a couple hours and only within bodily fluids. Who is to say that one cannot incorporate the ebola virus genome into the smallpox one, making a stable while still being highly virulent super virus (even airborne?). Smallpox has not been eradicted.
There are other theories out there concerning a "zombie virus." It is speculated that if rabies were genetically mingled with influenza, it could produce an airborne disease that would create the same kind of "rage virus" seen in popular zombie flicks and books. Will it happen? It's difficult to say for sure. Is it possible? Yes.