Should we kill all viruses on the planet with nanotech?

Juris Kaža
4 min readApr 10, 2020

Could killer-nanites be a cure more dangerous that the disease?

Let me start by saying that I am not a scientist and have superficial, popular science and book knowledge of matters of biotechnology. My latest reading was Neo.Life:25 Visions for the Future of Our Species a collection of 25 essays on how humanity now has the tools and knowledge (the knowledge increases with research) to control the evolution of humans and other life forms, even correcting “design errors” (as if there were a designer or sloppy divine engineer) such as cancer, genetic illnesses, ageing and limited life spans.

Neo.Life is full of interesting visions and speculation, including that we could send a programmable single cell synthetic life organism at near light speed to “colonize” a planet in a distant star system by evolving more sophisticated life forms once it gets there. That was one of the more far-out ideas in the book, along with a kind of guide to what choices one gets with genetically modified embryos — pick one for the kind of kid you want. A tad creepy?

Anyway, this is not a full review of the essay collection, compiled and edited by Jane Metcalfe, who happens to be the partner of my college classmate and co-founder (with Jane) of WIRED, Louis Rossetto, and her co-editor Brian Bergstein. The book is now sold on the neo.life website and perhaps elsewhere. That’s .life as a domain, there are other neo life sites that are something else, one, if not several, a peddler of various nostrums. Jane’s site and book is based on science — weird science, perhaps, but science.

Kill them all?

The reality as I write is that the world economy and daily life have been shut down out of concern, if not outright fear of what a kind of quasi-life — the Covid-19 virus, is doing and could do to us. Somewhat inspired by the visions of Metcalfe and Bergstein’s book, I wonder if it would be possible to use the all the biotech tools and computational tools we have to exterminate all viruses linked to human illness on a planetary scale.

What would this take? One way to do it would be to design hunter-killer nano-organisms (nanites?) designed to locate and destroy specific virus strains or disease-linked viruses in general. The nanites could be turned loose in nature, perhaps with a kill-switch against unintended consequences. They should be more nanomachines than “organisms” to prevent any virus strain from…

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Juris Kaža

A freelance journalist based in Riga, Latvia who has covered the country and region for 20 years. Speak native Latvian and English, fluent Swedish and German.