Researchers use computers to analyze Digital DNA, operate laboratory equipment, and store genetic information in digital biology. Still, new capabilities also mean unknown risks, and biologists remain largely unaware of the potential weaknesses of automating biology.
The emerging e-biology security sector is exploring a new category of risks resulting from the increased use of computers in life sciences.
University scientists, industry workers, and government agencies have begun to discuss these threats. For example, FBI agents from the directorate of weapons of mass destruction have followed synthetic biology courses, risks to cyberbiology security, at colorado state university and before them at Virginia college of technology.
Together with the co-authors from Virginia Tech and the University of Nebraska Lincoln, we discussed two main types of threats: sabotage of the machines on which scientists depend and the manufacture of dangerous biological materials.
Malware Affecting the Physical World for Digital DNA
In 2010, a nuclear plant in Iran faced a mysterious failure with its equipment months after a security company was called to investigate the unrelated problem.
They found malicious software called Stuxnet that made the equipment vibrate, and this failure halted one-third of the plant’s equipment and slowed the development of Iran’s nuclear program. Moreover, unlike most viruses, it not only targets computers but also attacks equipment operated by computers.
The connection between computer science and biology has opened the door to extraordinary discoveries. For example, computers help decide it up to human genes, create objects with new capabilities, increase drug development automation, and revolutionize food safety.
What about pharmaceutical companies producing lifesaving drugs? As life scientists become more dependent on technical work, the likelihood is likely to rise.
Tampering with DNA
The spread and speed of access to genetic information on the internet have made it easier for amateur researchers in public laboratories to carry out important work such as developing affordable insulin.
But the line between physical DNA sequencing and digital representation becomes increasingly blurry.
Twenty years ago, genetic engineers could only create new digital DNA molecules by sewing natural DNA molecules. Today, scientists can use chemical reactions to produce artificial Digital DNA.
The sequence of these molecules generates using the software. In the same way, electrical engineers use software to design computer chips. Likewise, computer engineers software writing software engineers use software genetic engineers to create genetics.
It means that specific physical samples are no longer necessary to create new biological samples.
It’s an exaggeration to say that internet access is all you need to create a dangerous pathogen gene for humans. You need a low-risk gene.
Identify the Threat with Digital DNA
Conversations about digital biology security so far have focused heavily on doomsday scenarios and two-way. Threats, on the one hand, computer viruses such as stokesnet can be used to penetrate digitally controlled machines in biology laboratories. And DNA can be used to start an attack by writing malware that is released when DNA sequences translate into digital files by computers.
If wrong customers hack into new digitally designed chain databases or DNA molecules to cause harm. The results can be disastrous. For example, unintentional errors during translation between the physical-digital DNA molecule and its digital counterpart are commoN.
These errors may not disturb global security, but they may cause expensive delays or product recalls.
Despite these risks, it is not surprising that researchers request samples from employees or companies to ensure that the physical piece they receive corresponds to the expected digital sequence.
Changes in new infrastructure and technologies can help increase the safety of the workflow in biology. For example, there are already guidelines to help DNA production companies view applications for known pathogens. Universities can develop mandatory guidelines similar to any DNA production requests.
There is no affordable and straightforward way to audit DNA samples through the complete sequence of genetic genes. Moreover, the ability to manipulate DNA was a privilege for a few selected groups, and manipulation was limited in scope and application.
Today, biologists rely on a global support chain and a network of computers that unprecedentedly manipulate DNA. It’s time to start thinking about the security of the digital DNA interface. Not after a new breach like Stuxnet.
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