Janet and John Edit RNA – by Francis Turner
A.k.a. John Ringo is a prophet and probably about as well appreciated as Cassandra and the various biblical prophets in their own country.
Mr Ringo did a speech/facebook post almost 10 years ago called “The Inevitable Zombie Apocalypse”, which is depressing and which you should go read. I was reminded of that post when this UPI story popped up at Instapundit recently.
‘Universal’ coronavirus vaccine may protect against variants, common cold
By Dennis Thompson HealthDay Reporter
An experimental COVID-19 vaccine could potentially provide universal protection against future COVID-19 variants as well as other coronaviruses — maybe even the ones responsible for the common cold.
This experimental vaccine takes another tack. Researchers genetically engineer E. coli bacteria, removing the parts that make people sick and adding the coronavirus spike protein target to the surface of the bacteria.
The bacteria are then killed off and injected into the person or animal, where the immune system recognizes it as an invader and mounts a defense. The bacteria itself prompts the immune response, rather than something produced by human cells.
“All that you need to do that is you take your bacteria, you grow it and then you inactivate it with a little bit of formaldehyde, and that’s your vaccine,” Zeichner said.
Genetically editing E.Coli is something I know a fair amount about because about 20 years ago that’s what the startup I was working for was doing. We modified the bacterium so that it created interesting enzymes that could be used to create drug pre-cursors and the like. If we’d known anything about viruses and the need to create vaccines we could have created this one just as easily. At the time it was a moderately fiddly process to get the modified DNA to work, our scientists were exceptionally able and got the process working most of the time. These days it’s something that can be done by a moderately competent lab tech with 95% reliability. More to the point the equipment needed to do the whole thing now fits on a single lab bench and there’s no need for complicated sterile environments and the like.
The article mentions that a 1500 liter vat could make correctly modified e.coli very very cheaply and that is absolutely correct, all you need is a bit of warmth, water and some nutrients (sugars and minerals) and a week or so for the bacteria to reproduce to eat most of the nutrients (but not all, if they eat all then they die prematurely and that’s NOT GOOD for QA). You then filter the bacteria out using a large coffee filter (well OK a slightly better grade filter than that but not much), add the formaldehyde to kill them quickly and bottle the result which you then store in the fridge. You could, almost as easily, create a continuous process that pulled out liters of concentrated bacteria every hour at one end while adding new nutrient at the other. Once you had this going the cost of the process would be similar to the cost of brewed beer (i.e. well under $0.10/liter in bulk and you’d be able to make several doses (10? more?) per liter so the raw cost per dose would be under a cent) and the cost of packaging and distribution would be greater by orders of magnitude than the cost of making the vaccine.
Assuming the vaccination bit works, this really is trivial to produce in bulk with today’s technology and given that killed whole-cell vaccines have been a thing for a century or so we know that it’s going to be safe (as long as you actually kill all the bacteria – see the Cutter incident with the Salk polio vaccine). In fact if you copy this for other viral families then this will allow us to create vaccines for most viral diseases. You just need to find the common bit in the viral family to express on the E.Coli outer membrane and the DNA needed to get E.Coli to reproduce with that change. Given that the E.Coli genome is one of the best known to science once the scientific research that explains how to create the Coronavirus spike protein has been published any halfway competent PhD student will be able to modify it to see how effective it is for some other viral disease.
In a decade or so, presuming this and/or some similar efforts work, I would therefore expect that most people will be vaccinated against most know viral diseases (from Ebola and Wuflu down to the cold) and the cost will be something like $1 per person for the lot.
That’s the good news.
But Mr Ringo was predicting bad things, and so do I or at least I want to warn about the possibility of bad things. So let’s think how things could go wrong.
There’s the obvious failure to properly kill the bacteria. Now, unlike injecting live polio, injecting live E.Coli probably isn’t going to lead to death, but it’s not a good thing and especially when we get to the point that the immunizations are given to children it’s likely to cause serious side-effects. It could also result in the GM strain getting out into wild where it could mix and mutate with other produce interesting hybrids.
This won’t necessarily be a problem in the developed world because the QA processes in place should catch this kind of failure before the vaccines get distributed, but in other parts of the world that is not necessarily the case and once a hybrid strain gets out it can (will) spread worldwide. Note that both the Russian and Chinese wuflu vaccines have been notably less effective than the four western ones and one wonders how much of that is due to QA not catching errors like the one in the US where some morons mixed the up AZ & J&J vaccine ingredients and thereby trashed several million doses.
But then that kind of accidental error is not the real issue – the real issue is a deliberate different modification of E.Coli. Recall that some E.Coli strains are a normal part of the microbiome in your digestive tract. The question to ask is not, how can this vaccine effort go wrong? but rather, what have Chicom/Russian/other research facilities already done to modify E.Coli? and what happens when those E.Coli are released? Someone who brought in a vial of live modified E.Coli stuck them in a 100l tank with the right heat/nutrients and then caused the output of that to be spread in the misters of various supermarkets could cause a lot of fun. Precisely what would depend on the genetic modifications, but while zombification probably wouldn’t be one, that’s not necessarily a good thing.
As I know from my own former career, it’s not too hard to create E.Coli that produces pretty much any enzyme you want, and quite possibly any number of non enzymatic chemicals. So you get this E.Coli living in your stomach and it produces some kind of slow acting poison or something that (say) converted vitamin A to something useless. Then you and everyone else exposed would gradually go blind. Figuring out that this was caused by a mutant E.Coli would be a pretty long term project and in the mean time you have thousands of people who need intravenous injections of Vitamin A.
That’s the subtle attack, but you could go for the less subtle version. If, for example, the Chicoms really wanted to get rid of the Uighurs the right e.coli distributed in the rations could do the trick nicely. As John Ringo notes, if done correctly, it could attack something that Uighurs are genetically susceptible to but Han Chinese are not.
But then there’s the problem of evolution and the related problem of accidental release of it where it wasn’t meant to be released. E.Coli is a remarkably adaptive bacterium and the targeted bioweapon is likely to evolve to one that is less targeted. So once it’s wiped out most of the Uighurs it might evolve to wipe out lots of other humans too. And this assumes that the developers of the mutant E.Coli got the genetic susceptibility right in the first place which is likely not as easy as the developers of such a mutation might hope for. What this means is that if someone develops a mutant poisonous E.Coli as a weapon it is likely to spread widely far beyond the target population. (See also rumors about the origin of Wuflu and note how THAT bug has mutated in the last year)
The final problem is what happens in another 20 years when the Moore’s law improvements to Genetic Engineering take the current lab bench sized equipment and turn it into something the size of a food processor. At this point creating your own strain of E.Coli is the sort of thing high-school students do as a final year project. And this is where John Ringo’s warning really hits home, because now we see the pretty much inevitable release of thousands of GE strains of E.Coli into the wide world where they can mix with each other and more normal strains to produce who knows what. Fun times.
The only good news is that the techniques that have led to the current Wuflu vaccines can be used just as easily to counter all the plots of the mad mullahs and other would be killers and that, as with technology in general, there are a lot more smart people on the good (or at least the “don’t want to kill everyone”) side than on the genocide.
*Francis asked I add this link: