Synthetic supermicrobe will be resistant to all known viruses

post by James_Miller · 2016-11-22T04:40:05.982Z · score: 3 (4 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 10 comments

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comment by James_Miller · 2016-11-22T04:42:07.975Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Isn't this insanely dangerous? Couldn't bacteria immune to viruses out-compete all other bacteria and destroy most of earth's biosphere?

comment by CarlShulman · 2016-11-24T05:08:50.863Z · score: 3 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

That advantage only goes so far:

  • Plenty of nonviral bacteria-eating entities exist, and would become more numerous
  • Plant and antibacterial defenses aren't viral-based
  • For the bacteria to compete in the same niche as unmodified versions it has to fulfill a similar ecological role: photosynthetic cyanobacteria with altered DNA would still produce oxygen and provide food
  • It couldn't benefit from exchanging genetic material with other kinds of bacteria
comment by scarcegreengrass · 2016-11-22T05:22:54.630Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, it sounds like their dietary requirements would prevent that. Of course, if it's possible for someone to design a symbiotic system that outputs those four amino acids, then there could be trouble. Hopefully that's not feasible.

comment by turchin · 2016-11-22T09:32:10.883Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think that most biosphere will be eaten one day by a replicator, which will be created by a biohackers just for fun. And this bacteria shows new way how to do it. I thought before about universal virus which is able to infect all types of cells as a way to "eat biosphere".

comment by Sable · 2016-11-26T03:36:01.254Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Insanely dangerous, yes, but then again so is all potentially world-changing technology (think AI and nanobots).

In other words I agree with you, but I think that the response to "new technology with potentially horrific consequences or otherwise high risk/reward ratio" should be, "estimate level of caution necessary to reduce risk to manageable levels, double the level of caution, and proceed very, very slowly."

Because it seems to me, bad at biology as I am, that the ability to synthesize arbitrary proteins, which this technology does/is a stepping stone to, could be incredibly powerful and life-saving.

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2016-11-23T15:59:10.355Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

So far as I know, no animal, plant, or fungus's defenses against bacteria rely on infecting them with viruses. The only losers in this are viruses.

comment by James_Miller · 2016-11-23T16:26:28.974Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, but if everyone else is paying a "virus tax" and devoting resources to fending off viruses and you don't have to, you have the bigly advantage.

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2016-11-23T19:04:14.339Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Those in your e-coli-ological niche, yes.

comment by James_Miller · 2016-11-23T22:29:11.481Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What if the virus-proof bacteria mutate and take over other niches? Can't bacteria mutate very quickly?

comment by CellBioGuy · 2016-11-29T01:21:29.201Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The fastest way that bacteria adapt is usually by horizontal gene transfer. They can mutate very quickly by comparison to Eukaryotes but it's much harder to invent new metabolic pathways or systems that way rather than sucking them in from the vast global metagenome pool.