Biotechnology is now sufficiently advanced, widespread and inexpensive that a small group of people – or even a single person – can threaten the survival of humanity. Desktop fabrication labs, genetic databases and AI software are becoming accessible to the public. These enable the rapid research and synthesis of DNA, for those with appropriate technical knowledge.
Criminals have already begun to exploit this – providing access to drugs and other substances without prescriptions, for example (like offshore Internet pharmacies of earlier decades) – and now terrorists are making use of them too.
In the past, government agencies were able to combat bioterrorism by restricting access to pathogens themselves. This was achieved by regulating the laboratory use of potentially deadly agents, such as the Ebola virus. However, the advent of DNA synthesis technology means that simply restricting access to the actual pathogen no longer provides the security it once did. Since the gene sequence is a “blueprint”, i.e. a form of coded information, once an organism has been sequenced it can be synthesised without using culture samples or stock DNA.
As synthesis technology has continued to advance, it has become cheap, more accessible and far easier to utilise. Like the personal computer revolution of the early 1980s, biotechnology is diffusing into mainsteam society. At the same time, the ongoing need for medical breakthroughs has necessitated a gradual easing of database regulations. Furthermore, the DNA sequences for certain pathogens – such as anthrax, botulism and smallpox – have already been available on the Internet, for decades.
It’s therefore become alarmingly easy to produce a new virus (possibly an even deadlier version of an existing one) using a relatively low level of knowledge and equipment. Another, more sinister consequence, is the ability to target specific races or genetic groups of people.
One such “home made” bioweapon is unleashed around this time, with devastating results. There are significant casualties worldwide.* The threat begins to subside in the 2030s, as new defensive technologies – such as nanobots – become available to the general population. These devices, injected into the bloodstream, can be programmed to identify and eliminate harmful pathogens.