MALWARE HAS been inserted into strands of DNA for the first time as the blurring of organic and synthetic matter continues.
Just a week after scientists announced a major step forward in 'gene editing', a technique which edits out the bits of DNA that may be carrying a lifelong disease or abnormality at birth, another team have shown how DNA can be borked the same way.
The group from Washington University managed to hack a computer using data written into a synthesised strand of DNA.
Of course, although a serious academic paper, the whole thing was a bit of a stunt to draw attention to regulations surrounding DNA sequencing.
It's actually a very melodramatic use of something we've talked about before - using DNA for storage. However, this is the first time an infected piece of malware has been used to deliberately and knowingly infect a computer.
So we're not talking "I'm gonna hack your DNA and turn you into a goat with 13 legs and the horn" - it's the computer that gets hacked, and you have to start with the end game in mind for it to work.
The researchers make the point that: "We have no reason to believe that there have been any attacks against DNA sequencing or analysis programs", but equally, that is precisely why we need to look at this stuff now, before it happens, not later when it's too late and our synthetic arms all decide to declare war on us.
The paper has been peer-reviewed as part of the USENIX Security Symposium in the US.
So what should lawmakers be doing?
The team explains: "The government is currently involved in regulating the production of synthetic DNA products that may be used to generate dangerous compounds (e.g., infectious diseases, toxins, etc.) and federal law requires adequate security in connection to some types of health information.
"At this point, we are not in a position to propose any specific additional regulations. However, we intend to analyse the law and policy ramifications of this work in partnership with the UW Tech Policy Lab and encourage regulators to consider this area moving into the future."
It goes on to point out that this situation is so contrived that the positives of working in this field outweigh the minute possibilities for badness, and so we should plough on with experimentation in the field.
Earlier this year, researchers from Manchester demonstrated how they had successfully created a computer made entirely from DNA. µ
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