We’re running a series of companion posts this week to accompany our special edition Ars Lunch Break podcast. This is the third of three guest posts centered around Rob Reid’s TED talk from Tuesday. Today, microbiologist Andrew Hessel weighs in with his opinions and recommendations about the future of biomanufacturing.
The US government doesn’t skimp on bio-preparedness. Vaccines and other countermeasures are carefully developed in anticipation of disease outbreaks or bioterrorist attacks. The Strategic National Stockpile maintains a hefty inventory of medicines, supplies, and equipment, which can be shipped almost anywhere within 12 hours. In situations ranging from the 2001 anthrax attacks to 2016’s Zika scare, Americans have been lucky to have strong biodefenses.
But as anti-vaccine hysteria allows measles to regain long-lost beachheads, we’re reminded that human folly is a dynamic element of the disease landscape. Meanwhile, the number of human actors and actions in a position to stir the pot is set to explode. Tremendous improvements in core bioengineering technologies are tearing down the technical and economic barriers that once prevented the development of “designer” viruses and bacteria. Those entrusted with our defense will inevitably face an even more chaotic battlefield than exists today.