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DARPA Viral Mutation – Prophecy

October 31, 2010

DARPA Wants to Create Almanacs of Every Possible Virus Mutation

June 2nd, 2010
If ever a story belonged in the Kill Off category, this is it.
Via: Wired:
Right now, preparing for new viral threats means looking to the past, creating hypotheses based on how pathogens have changed before. Now Darpa wants to reverse that strategy: test every possible outcome, to create a prophetic almanac that warns of viral mutations and outbreaks in advance — giving scientists the chance to change the course of the future before illness strikes.
The Pentagon’s far-out research arm has been zeroing in on the danger of mutating pathogens, and the corresponding problem of drug resistance, for years now. The agency is already funding tobacco-based vaccine production, a seven-day plan to thwart biothreats, and prescient viral infection detectors. And they’ve even set their sights on psychic medics, with a 2007 program that sought to turn docs into all-knowing illness predictors.
Now, Darpa wants the powers of premonition to wipe out viral threats altogether. They’re hosting a workshop for a new program, called “Prophecy,” that’ll develop methods to predict the rate, location and likely mutations of viral agents.
First, the agency wants novel lab-based methods to reproduce “virus-host interactions,” in different environments. After that, researchers will sequence different viral genomes, and test how they adapt and change under diverse conditions.
Ideally, that’ll yield a host of algorithms, capable of accurately predicting “the rate, direction and phenotype of viral mutations.” From there, scientists will be able to develop appropriate attack strategies in the right geographic locations. Most notably, Darpa wants to see mere mortals outdo the forces of nature, by creating “high energy evolutionary boundaries” that keep genetic mutations at bay.
Even if Darpa’s program doesn’t result in omniscient predictive powers, the possibility of more accurately anticipating viral mutations would have widespread implications. Health agencies could prep for looming outbreaks, new vaccines could be fast-tracked — and if scientists do manage to thwart evolution, the threat of resistance to antibiotic and antiviral meds could be all but eliminated.


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