Unfortunately, it is just as easy to imagine major dangers. Gene drives may upend existing ecosystems in unforeseen ways. Modification of humans could open a Pandora’s box, altering the very meaning of humanity. Perhaps most alarming is that a clear understanding — and easy re-engineering — of human pathogens could lead to deliberate or accidental release of hugely destructive pathogens.
Scientists performing “gain of function” research have, for example, introduced mutations to the H5N1 virus to make it airborne. Though the intention of such research is to predict and prepare for adverse mutations that may occur naturally, developing these organisms creates the risk of accidental release, and publishing the techniques could provide a blueprint for others to make dangerous modifications to organisms.
Deliberately engineered pathogens could be given properties that make them even more dangerous than naturally occurring ones. While such abilities are currently limited to high-end labs run by top researchers, the necessary technology and understanding is rapidly becoming cheaper and more widespread, leading to serious risks of accidental release. Worse yet, if the set of people with access to such technology and understanding begins to overlap with groups of radical ideology who are willing to use such extreme measures, the results could be devastating unless effective countermeasures are developed first.