During my career with the Department of the Navy, I developed a program called Bio-Engineering for Materials Applications (BEMA). The idea was to think of genetic engineering from an engineering rather than genetics standpoint. Cells were little factories and things like DNA and RNA were really like the type of factory and the way it was run. My interest was in genetics to create new materials and equipment. Along the way, I got roped into the nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) defense arena.
So here I was, a couple of decades ago, trying to advance the engineering aspects of genetics while at the same time managing the NBC program. Since what I was doing was quite futuristic, it led to some strange, unusual and mentally uncomfortable places. It was unfortunately obvious that advances in genetic engineering could take relatively benign viruses, fungi and bacteria and turn them into monstrosities. The biological genie out of the bottle was not something I wanted to entertain so I quickly migrated away from both genetic engineering and NBC.
A few days ago, I heard Senator Tom Cotton discussing the Wuhan (2019-nCoV) coronavirus. He was both specific and cautious in what he said, so I will just try to lay out the gist of his comments without quoting him. First, he criticized China for withholding critical information regarding the situation. (Chairman Xi subsequently said it was bad and would get worse before it gets better.) Second, Cotton said there were a lot of hypotheses regarding what this virus is. However, he did not try to pin the situation down to a specific favored hypothesis. Third, and most important, he said that the Wuhan (2019-nCoV) coronavirus did not originate from the food market in Wuhan. The implications of this latter statement are quite alarming because it infers one of two things – either a bioweapon release or an unusual natural occurrence.
If the Wuhan (2019-nCoV) Coronavirus is a bioweapon, that is both bad news and good news. The bad news is that it will have been genetically engineered for maximum impact in the human population. The good news, if we can actually get some information from the Chinese, is that how it was designed can be used to defeat it. So far, the Chinese government has not been forthcoming – thus bio-laboratories around the world are racing to solve the puzzle without access to the intended genetic framework.
If, on the other hand, the Wuhan (2019-nCoV) Coronavirus is some freak of nature, then the scientific community will have to perform numerous experiments to find out what the virus actually is and how it managed to mutate so explosively. Some have suggested it is a bizarre evolution of something like MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) or SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) but spreads as easily as a cold. The good news is that natural viruses tend to moderate over time because in killing the host they kill themselves. The bad news is what do we do in the meantime other than quarantine and isolation. Some small labs have reported positive results towards a cure, but the logistics of testing, manufacturing and distributing a cure to hundreds of millions if not billions of people is daunting.
The CDC (Center for Disease Control) has the latest updates on symptoms and complications, transmission, and prevention and treatment. The CDC provides what is factually known at this particular point in time. Pandemic.news, on the other hand, provides an alternative view of the situation, nominally worst case. I suggest that those interested look at both what is known and what speculation suggests. My advice is to stay alert and monitor regularly. This is a pandemic either now or in the making. Don’t get fooled into complacency.