Watch your genes

dna_24395 The June edition of magazine Wired features an interesting article about the threats of DNA hacking in the near future. The author argues that the rapid advancements in the sequencing of DNA will have considerable implications for bio-crime. Costs for the mapping of a complete personal genome have dropped very rapidly, and in a few years may be costing no more than a couple of dollars. The manipulation (hacking) of DNA may get within the grasp of anyone who is willing to put in a bit of research. In the wake of these developments criminals will certainly be interested to explore new crime strategies.

Computing with DNA

The article compares the developments of DNA tinkering to the history of computer hacking: Initially a  territory of savvy nerds, now a tool for organized crime. In essence DNA can be used as a computing system. Instead of the binary code that makes computers tick, the amino-acid base-pairs that make up the code of DNA spirals may be used as a versatile computing system and consequently could be hacked and manipulated.

Comparing computer crime and DNA-manipulation

The author goes on with a comparison between prevalent computer crime such as spam, fishing, identity theft, piracy and DDoS attacks and DNA-hacking equivalents. This is at the same time the strength and weakness of the article. It provides a useful framework for an impression of  future DNA-manipulation threats. On the downside, the point to point comparison seems a bit forced. There are vital differences between DNA and computer software. Our genome is the backbone of our existence and therefore manipulation has far bigger implications for our identities. We can shut our computer down, protect ourselves from viruses and spam, but DNA tinkering will need far more intrusive protective solutions that could be threats in itself.

Other threats

Crime fighting nation states and secret services, corporate data mining and scientific endeavors could curb our personal freedom and human rights. Health insurance may collapse as it may be assumed that the risk of illness can be read in our genetic make-up. Parents might want to influence the DNA of their offspring and some individuals could even go as far as producing their own clones.  At the same time there may be many blessings as well. It is impossible to predict the influences on society, more so because other trends and technologies will vastly change our world as well. But of course these other ramifications are not within the scope of the article, and it is well worth reading.

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