TERRORISTS could be acquiring “extraordinary means” to launch an apocalyptic biowar with virus-laden “insect drones”, an expert has warned.
Raina MacIntyre said the world is “facing an existential threat to human survival” as terrorist groups and rogue states get their hands on “mind-blowing” DIY bioweapons.
As biotechnology advances at breakneck speed, she said “DIY biology” has exploded in the last decade.
Any organism can now be made in a lab entirely from scratch – opening up a chilling unknown world of cutting-edge bioweapons, she warned.
This would enable terrorist groups to potentially 3D print biological materials such as viruses.
Terrifying armies of “insect drones” could then be unleashed to infect the world with their killer cargo – without anyone ever knowing.
MacIntyre – a Professor of Global Biosecurity at University of New South Wales – told The Sun Online: “I think we are facing an existential threat to human survival through the kind of technology.
“It is not possible to ever eradicate an organism again because any organism can be made in a lab from scratch.
“We’ve got technology that is mind-blowing. You can buy a ‘lab-in-a-box’ kit online.
“Along with that is 3D printing of biological materials.
“There’s DIY biology labs all over the world, in every major city.
“Just as you have nefarious actors running drug labs in their kitchen, it is entirely possible to run a clandestine lab without anybody knowing. We should be worried about that.”
MacIntyre said cutting-edge 3D printing means ground-breaking scientists have been able to print organs – such as an entire heart with human tissue.
But there are fears terrorists or states could take advantage of the tech to test nightmarish biological weapons on 3D-printed human cells.
Back in 2019, a report from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey warned 3D printers could help terrorists kill at scale by allowing them to discreetly create a new weapon.
Researcher Robert Shaw told Scientific American it would be “something completely new, that no one here is really thinking of”.
House flies, ticks, mosquitoes and even caterpillars could also be used as weapons, other experts found.
They could be injected with genetically engineered viruses – and remote-controlled “insect drones” could stealthily deploy the bugs over vast areas to spread the pathogen.
The insects then infect any person or animal they bite.
The Nazis considered using mosquitoes as biological weapons during the Second World War.
“Insect drones can be real insects that can be controlled with a radiotransmitter or robot drones that are designed to look like an insect,” MacIntyre explained.
“They can be used for spying, but also for deploying biological weapons with precision targeting.
“Something like an insect drone could be used to target an individual or to release a highly contagious pathogen.
“The idea is these would not likely be detected.”
But as the threat looms, MacIntyre said intelligence agencies are still stuck in a Cold War mindset – and at least a decade behind advances in biosecurity.
“We’re now in an era where the big actors in any kind of conflict are not necessarily nation states,” the epidemiologist explained.
“You’ve got other players that are very powerful and have extraordinary means.
“The whole risk landscape has changed enormously – but the way we think about biosecurity is still rooted in the Cold War.
“It’s extremely old-fashioned and not fit for purpose in the world we live in today.
“The kind of weapons that can be created today are in another realm altogether from the Cold War.”
And MacIntyre said a bioweapons attack could look like the Covid pandemic.
“You might see exactly what you’re seeing right now with Covid,” she said.
“A virus that causes chronic disease, chronic disability, leaving your populations weaker and sicker than they were before.”
Terrorist groups will also be watching the pandemic closely to see how the world responds to a global biological threat, she warned.
MacIntyre said: “People who want to perpetrate biological warfare will be sitting back and watching all this and saying, ‘how easy would it be? They’re all going to be cheering us on and saying it came from the racoons’.
“That’s what the nefarious actors will be thinking, ‘no one is ever going to suspect it, piece of cake’.”
Colonel Hamish de Bretton-Gordon has also warned “bad actors” will be quick to realise that contagious outbreaks are the way to bring the world to its knees.
The former commander of the military’s Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Regiment said Britain must take action to protect against a Covid-type virus being used as a biological weapon.
He told the Daily Mail: “The spread of Covid has provided a template for terrorists, as well as Russia and China, for how effective a biological weapon could be.
“It is highly likely these states are researching biological weapons, which are also of significant appeal to terrorists.
“For example, we know that ISIS attempted to introduce plague into refugee camps in Syria while jihadists also successfully obtained a large amount of weaponised ricin in Germany.”
He added: “It is easy to manipulate a virus and there are laboratories in rogue and failing states where a biological weapon could be produced and brought into Britain, causing thousands of deaths.”