The New Bio-Citizen: How the Democratization of Genomics Will Transform Our Lives from Epidemics Management to the Internet of Living Things

The attributes of a new bio-citizen, in an internet of living things, look like this: scientists, patients, congressmen, employees —everyone—will be analyzing the DNA of their own bodies and the living species surrounding them, by running algorithms through their data sets on shared cloud labs. Portable genomic sequencers, the size of a USB and connected to our smartphones, would become an integral part of our most crucial socio-technical systems from agro-food facilities, airports, battlefields, hospitals and our DIY home labs. These DNA-reading sensors would identify the nature, transmission roads and mutations of deadly viruses, engineered bacteria and forgotten lethal pathogens that could be soon freed by the melting permafrost. In their home, individuals would have access to liquid biopsies, blood test that could track their most vital biomarkers and identify, at early stage, the pieces of DNA shredded by a cancer tumor or a viral agent. If millions of citizens were streaming these data to the cloud, citizens would build the most powerful data set for preventive and precision medicine. The genetic identity of any living thing, then, acquires a second life on the internet; it is The Internet of Living Things.

In this beginning of 21st century, are we equipped to manage the complex and uncertain ethical, security and governance entanglements coming from the Internet of Living Things? (READ MORE)

 

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The Intelligent and Connected Bio-Labs of the Future: Promise and Peril in the Fourth Industrial Revolution

A vast array of technologies are rapidly developing and converging to fundamentally change how research is performed, and who is able to perform it. Gene editing, DNA synthesis, artificial intelligence, automation, cloud-computing, and others are all contributing to the growing intelligence and connectivity of laboratories. It is currently possible to perform a growing number of research tasks automatically and remotely with a few clicks of the mouse. And with the barriers of entry to synthetic biology tools like CRISPR decreasing, they will no doubt be subject to automation as well, and may even be coupled with artificial intelligence to optimize the power of genetic engineering. While this may be a boon for the development of novel vaccines and therapeutics by parties that have traditionally not had access to the necessary tools, it also opens the risk of nefarious use to engineer or edit biological agents or toxins. While there have been attempts at governance to limit the avenues by which a bad actor may gain access to the pathogens or tools to create biological weapons, the ever-increasing pace of innovation has left gaps that may be exploited. Fortunately, investment in technologies such as artificial intelligence and sequencing may also function as the best defense against the growing threat of misuse of biological agents. (READ MORE)

 

World Economic Forum|How to Optimize Human Biology:  Where Genome Editing and Artificial Intelligence Collide

Genome editing and artificial intelligence (AI) could revolutionize medicine in the United States and globally. Though neither are new technologies, the discovery of CRISPR in genome editing and advances in deep learning for AI could finally grant clinical utility to both. The medical use of these technologies individually could result in their eventual combined use, raising new and troubling ethical, legal, and social questions. If ongoing technical challenges can be overcome, will the convergence of AI and CRISPR result in practitioners ‘optimizing’ human health? And could viewing human biology as a machine result in a willingness to optimize biology for reasons other than health alone? Given the rapid technical progress and potential benefits of genome editing and AI, answering these questions will become more pressing in the near future. Such concerns apply not only to the United States, but to the international medical community. Notably, China has demonstrated its desire to be a global leader in both genomics and AI, which could indicate the potential of these technologies to converge in China soon. What form should the international governance of these technologies take and how will it be enforced? To ensure responsible progress of genomics and AI in combination, a balance must be struck between promoting innovation and responding to ethical, social, and moral quandaries. (READ MORE)

Beyond the Laboratory and Far Away: Immediate and Future Challenges in Governing the Bio-economy

Today’s bio-economy, where info-, nano-, and biotechnology converge, has the
potential to yield great advances in all sectors, including medicine and energy,
by using advanced modes of manufacturing at an atomic scale while achieving
reproducible results. This creative convergence sounds exciting, but scientific
advances and technological innovation do not come without some risks.
Policymakers need to adopt a critical perspective on governance approaches
regarding the bio-economy, keeping in mind how it affects our intricate
sociotechnical system, our regulatory cultures, and the evolving relationships
between researchers, funders, industry and the public. (Read more)

Film: Genome-Editing, Perils and Promises

From computer code to genetic code… From electronic circuits to genetic circuits… This is the age of Life Engineers who program bacteria just like we program a computer, using DNA, the “software of life”.

Eleonore Pauwels, Director of Biology Collectives, Senior Program Associate and Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, is intrigued by the speed at which this techno-science is developing. How do we we anticipate problems linked to biosafety, biosecurity and ownership of the tools that allow us to edit our genomes?

This fall television channel France 5 broadcast a film on Genomics and Synthetic Biology.

Biology 2.0 Engineering Life, Trailer

By Eleonore Pauwels

Published in Issues in Science and Technology, Summer 2016,

In A Dangerous Master, Wendell Wallach, a scholar at Yale University’s Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics, tells the story of modern society’s struggle to cope with technology’s complexity and uncertainty. In the course of telling this story, Wallach questions the terms of the social contract under which we as a society, predict, weigh, and manage the potential harms and benefits that result from the adoption of emerging technologies. In urgent prose, he argues that we need different epistemic, cultural, and political approaches to adequately assess emerging technologies’ risks and their broader social impacts. Wallach promotes public deliberation as one of these approaches, which provides citizens and experts the opportunity to distinguish the technological hype from the hope, the speculation from reality, and in so doing shape their technological futures.

There is a whiff of science fiction in Wallach’s prose—maybe more fiction than science. He envisions a future where autonomous robots, designer babies, homemade pathogenic organisms, and mindclones confront our hopes, fears, and inner conflicts…

Full Book Review

Review of: A Dangerous Master: How to Keep Technology from Slipping Beyond Our Control, by Wendell Wallach. New York, NY: Basic Books, 2015, 336 pp.van-gogh-and-the-colors-of-the-night-13

How Our Unhealthy Cybersecurity Infrastructure Is Hurting Biotechnology

Recent security breaches in the data of health care providers and governments point toward a larger problem for the biotechnology sector, which on average has been growing more than 10 percent per year over the past decade—much faster than the rest of the economy. Current cybersecurity policy, however, neglects the biotech industry, endangering not only the growth of business but also the infrastructure underpinning the future of life sciences. (Read More)