Micro-Brewed Explosives: The Renewable Choice in Demolition
The techniques that make synthetic biology such a powerful tool for positive innovation may be also used for destruction. The military’s new search for biologically brewed explosives threatens to reopen an avenue of research that has been closed for 37 years: biotechnology developed for use in war...Because explosives-producing microbes in themselves would not be weapons, they would not appear to violate the convention [Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention]. _Slate
The quality that makes microbes so powerful will also make them difficult to contain: A single microscopic cell, acquired by a criminal or enemy, could in principle multiply to fill a vat within a few days. _SlateMicrobial genes can be programmed to produce a wide range of products that are useful to humans. From antiquity, humans have used microbes in the production of foods and beverages. More recently, microbes are being programmed for a wider array of synthetic products.
In 2000, when Weiss gave talks in MIT's biology department, the weirdness of this biology/engineering synthesis was apparent. “When I spoke of circuits that could turn genes on and off, some probably thought I had fallen out of space,” he says. “Those days, we did not speak the same language. Now we have developed a hybrid vocabulary.”Weiss and Knight developed a Registry of Standard Biological Parts to assist researchers in designing programmable genetic circuits, for the custom designing of microbes. The idea is to take synthetic biology, and "put it on steroids."
... Weiss's goal was to build a plasmid, a custom-made DNA sequence that can be replicated easily. Knight, an electrical engineer, aimed to pare down the genome and repurpose the cell to produce things it was not originally designed to make -- plastics, say, or fuels. _Science
Most people like the idea of using microbes to produce insulin and other life-saving drugs. Few people object to the idea of using microbes to produce fuels, plastics, and high value chemicals for industry. But die-hard enemies of President Obama cannot seem to accept his ingenious ideas for micro-brewing explosives with convenient and prolific microbes!
Picture, if you will, bombs and cruise missiles which when they reach their targets do not explode. Instead, they release a fine mist of microbes in nutrient suspension, which coat the surfaces of everything in the vicinity of the target. These microbes can then proceed to proliferate wildly, in exponential fashion. They grow. And grow. And grow.
What do these "weaponised" microbes become? Whatever you want! They could become food -- cheese or wine, for example. Or they could become biofuels if you'd rather. New age weapons designers would have their pick of a wide array of breeds of microbe.
Very wicked weapons designers might send microbial colonies capable of assembling and detonating a nuclear weapon out of soil, rock, and junk parts. Such micro-weapon nukes may very well violate a treaty or convention. But what about microbe colonies that first disperse and grow to cover an entire city, then synthesise enough conventional explosives to destroy the entire metropolis in one fell swoosh? Military lawyers may wish to burn the midnight oil before signing off on those plans.
Regardless of eventual application, micro-brewed weapons certainly represent a new dawn in renewable military applications. Mr. Obama can be forgiven many of his more questionable decisions in the light of his enlightened choice for the Pentagon to go renewable.