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The Coming CRISPR Wars:
Or why genome editing can be more dangerous
than nuclear weapons
Eric Werner *
Oxford Advanced Research Foundation
While CRISPR-Cas genome editing technology has been heralded as a great ad-
vancement for science, human health, bioengineering and medicine, there is a
potential dark side of CRISPR genome editing that may be a greater danger to
humanity than nuclear weapons. We present some of the more obvious poten-
tial military and bioterrorism applications of CRISPR and related genome editing
technology. CRISPR weapons have signiﬁcant advantages over conventional nu-
clear weapons. The balance of power based on mutual assured destruction cannot
be maintained once CRISPR weapons enter the international arena. Disturbingly,
because of the easy entrance to the technology, it opens the door for small organi-
zations and countries to enter the international arms arena. The simplicity and ease
of development of such weapons makes it essential that CRISPR genome editing
technology be carefully applied and regulated.
Key words:CRISPR/Cas, CRISPR, genome editing, weapons of mass destruction, genocide, biotech-
nology, war, militarization, cancer bomb, cancer cure, nonzero sum games, zero sum games, strategies of
*©Eric Werner 2019. All rights reserved.
†ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dr. Eric Werner has a Ph.D. in logic and is a research scientist specializing in
distributed artiﬁcial intelligence, systems biology, biotechnology, cancer modeling and simulation. He recently de-
veloped new protocols to treat cancer via genome editing using CRISPR in combination with dna-CAD (Computer
Aided Design) software. Dr. Werner last worked at the University of Oxford for 11 years in both the department of
computer science and the department of physiology, anatomy and genetics. Previously he worked at many of the
world’s top think tanks including INRIA in France, CNR in Rome, AAII the Stanford research labs in Australia,
and the Distributed Systems Research Group at the University of Hamburg and led a project with staﬀand students
that developed the ﬁrst four legged "insect" robot in Germany. He was chairman of the department of computer
science and Dana Faculty Fellow at Bowdoin College. He led robotic software development while a professor in
computer science at the Montana College of Mineral Science and Technology.
Eric Werner: The Coming CRISPR Wars 2
1 Introduction 2
2 CRISPR for curing cancer and for creating a cancer bomb 2
2.1 The Cancer Bomb : Cancer is designed on the computer and translated into
real RNA/DNA and inserted into a live person using CRISPR with a viral vector 4
3 Real and present dangers of CRISPR weapons 4
4 Why CRISPR-weapons can be so dangerous 4
4.1 Unfortunately, there are further properties of potential CRISPR weapons that
makes them ideal weapons for precise, targeted mass destruction. ....... 4
5 The military perspective 5
6 CRISPR for genocide 6
7 How do we defend ourselves against CRISPR weaponry 6
8 Schelling’s Strategies of Conﬂict in the bio-information age 6
9 Conclusion 7
CRISPR-based genome editing technology1is without understatement causing a revolution
in science and medicine. Developed just a few years ago it has captivated scientists like no
other recent biotechnological development. In short it allows a person with less than a high
school education to edit genomes of any animal or plant. Indeed, high school students are now
using this technology to do experiments that previously research scientists could only dream
2 CRISPR for curing cancer and for creating a cancer bomb
My research has focused on the wonderful potential of applying CRISPR-like genome network
editing to cure cancer[23,22,25,26,24]. It is based on the new cancer network paradigm
which goes to the core of how cancer cells are controlled. It complements and extends classical
gene-based approaches to cancer therapy using genome editing[1,9,10,27,28].
1The word CRISPR will refer to CRISPR/Cas or similar genome editing technologies.
Eric Werner: The Coming CRISPR Wars 3
Unfortunately, once we can cure cancer by using CRISPR then one can also create cancer using
the same technology.
For example, we routinely use cancer-CAD software to design various cancers on the computer.
Then we use the same software to study such designed cancers by simulating their growth and
behavior. Finally, on the computer, at least, we can cure such cancers. We stop any such cancer
by applying an optimal network transformation in each cancer cell’s genome. As illustrated in
the sequence in Fig.1, we can either stop the cancer cells from growing or kill the cancer cells
(a) A few designed
(b) Cancer grows (c) Exponential growth
(d) Cancer stopped (e) Induced cell death (f) Former cancer cells
Fig. 1: Cancer birth and death Fig.1a With cancer-CAD software one of the normal cells (in
white) is transformed into a cancer cell (in red) which then starts dividing into a few cancer cells.
Fig.1b The cancer grows quickly. Fig.1c It grows exponentially. Fig.1d Using cancer-CAD software the
cancer cells are diﬀerentiated into harmless cells (in purple). Fig.1e Next, the harmless cells are further
diﬀerentiated to activate a cell death pathway resulting in their own suicide. Fig.1f The former cancer
cells slowly die.
All done with the aim of curing cancer while inducing minimal side-eﬀects. The next step
to cure real cancers we need to translate this software technology to living organisms. This
requires further research. How much time that will take, we don’t know. It may be a long time
and it may be just around the corner.
Eric Werner: The Coming CRISPR Wars 4
2.1 The Cancer Bomb : Cancer is designed on the computer and translated into
real RNA/DNA and inserted into a live person using CRISPR with a viral
For this essay on the dangers of CRISPR, the important point is that we can already design
cancers on the computer. And, once we can cure live cancers, CRISPR will make it possible to
actually create live cancers. Thus, with any new technology there is the good, the bad and the
3 Real and present dangers of CRISPR weapons
But creating cancers is only one of the future dangers. There are real and immediate dangers
where the technology is fully in place now. Here are some of my additional worries about the
real present technologically feasible and ugly side of CRISPR:
The very simplicity of the applicability of CRISPR genome editing is what makes it potentially
extremely dangerous. It has properties that makes it an ideal military and terrorist weapon.
Here is why:
4 Why CRISPR-weapons can be so dangerous
1. CRISPR-Cas editing can be precisely designed to edit a particular section of a target
2. CRISPR edits can be delivered by viruses to a given host[16,12,1,14,15].
3. The edits can potentially be controlled by Boolean logic. Practically, that means the
editing transformation of the target genome is only applied if certain precisely speciﬁed
conditions are satisﬁed in the target animal or plant genome[28,11]. For example, two
persons can be infected by the same CRISPR editing virus yet only the person who
satisﬁes the preconditions, such as having an active gene for brown skin, will have their
4.1 Unfortunately, there are further properties of potential CRISPR weapons
that makes them ideal weapons for precise, targeted mass destruction.
1. There is minimal risk to using this weapon if it is properly designed.
2The term "Cancer Bomb" does not originate with me. Unfortunately, it is a typical reaction of persons with
military backgrounds. When they hear that we can potentially cure cancers, their response is muted. However,
when they hear, in order to study cancers, we design and create cancers, their response is more enthusiastic: One
could weaponize such designed cancers into a "cancer bomb". After my initial reaction of disbelief, shock and
disgust, I began to think of how CRISPR weapons would work. The result is this essay.
Eric Werner: The Coming CRISPR Wars 5
2. The home population can be inoculated against the CRISPR viral vector in case the
Boolean preconditions are too broad.
3. Its eﬀects can remain hidden for months.
4. CRISPR bombs do not have the long lasting toxic eﬀects that nuclear weapons have.
5. It does not destroy property only the target organisms.
6. Given the ingenuity of the human race and its capacity for good and evil, engineers will
quickly discover CRISPR-like genome editing weapons that have properties such as:
(a) Highly precise lethality controlled by Boolean logic
(b) Diﬃcult to detect
(c) With lag or no lag time
(d) Diﬃcult to cure
(e) Wide dispersal
(f) Persistence in the target population over time. It is already being done for
mosquitos and bacteria[18,2]. Mosquitos are our close genetic relatives -at least
for many essential genes of life.
Thus, nuclear weapons are an outdated technology. Militarily CRISPR weapons are far supe-
rior to nuclear weapons and will likely replace them.
Together these properties of CRISPR-based editing make weaponizing CRISPR all too easy
(see also [7,17]).
One can create a virus that delivers CRISPR editing with the precondition that only those hu-
mans whose genomes satisfy those preconditions will be killed or disabled by the virus.
5 The military perspective
From a military perspective it is suﬃcient that the person be incapacitated, no longer able to
perform their military role. With CRISPR-edits one can potentially create precise cancers that
kill persons within months. Unfortunately, it is much easier to create cancers than cure cancers
by genome editing.
The key attraction of a designed CRISPR-kill-virus as a military weapon is the precision of
mass incapacitation and extermination that it presents. As long as the preconditions only aﬀect
the target adversary population and not the home population, the weapon has catastrophic
consequences for the potential adversary population.
Unfortunately, this essay is not an exercise in fantasy horror science ﬁction. It is a very real
present and future danger to humanity.
Eric Werner: The Coming CRISPR Wars 6
You can be sure that there are labs throughout the world that are already developing CRISPR-
technology for weaponization.
6 CRISPR for genocide
Given a certain group has a unique genetic property that diﬀerentiates them from all others, then
ALL the members of that group are potential targets of a designed CRISPR-kill-virus.
The more general the conditions are, the greater the set of potential targets that can be killed.
For example, if the precondition is that the person must have brown eyes, then any brown eyed
person is a potential target of a designed CRISPR-kill-virus.
What edits can kill a person? One can attack any member of the set of genes essential to human
life. Once that gene is edited so that its protein no longer functions, the person will undergo a
slow, to rapid death depending on the which gene is disabled.
7 How do we defend ourselves against CRISPR weaponry
The bottom line is that we need to tread carefully:
1. We must make the public and political leaders aware of the dangers of CRISPR-based
2. Because there are real potential military outcomes of CRISPR-based genome editing,
we must urgently develop defense strategies to counter such potential attacks.
3. Any CRISPR edit can in principle be reversed. That is how, for example, a network
mutation that causes cancer can in principle be reversed to stop the cancer. So too, any
life essential gene can in principle be repaired by a reverse edit. However, this will
require a major research defense initiative.
4. It is paramount that we adopt consistent and universal international regulations of this
very dangerous technology.
5. Perhaps we need a new universal ethics so that the need to destroy other groups becomes
8 Schelling’s Strategies of Conﬂict in the bio-information age
CRISPR weaponization has international strategic consequences. Thomas Schelling’s classic
playbook, for a balanced international strategy in the nuclear age, no longer holds in the
Eric Werner: The Coming CRISPR Wars 7
bio-information age. Its the end of bargaining games (nonzero sum games)3. The classic Cold
War rationality was based on mutually assured destruction. Schelling’s strategy for avoiding
war required a delicate, dynamic balance of power.
To maintain the balance, if one side enhances or decreases its weapon capabilities then the
other must follow suit. This interactive process assumes mutual, functionally perfect informa-
tion about the other side’s capacities. I know what weapons you possess and you know what
weapons I posses and we both know the other knows this as well.
This perfect information was based on open inspection of the other’s nuclear facilities. Because
of the ease of creating CRISPR weapons in tiny labs that are practically impossible to detect,
mutual functionally perfect knowledge of weapon capacity fails. And with it the strategy based
on mutually assured destruction also fails. One cannot balance weapon capacity when you have
no idea what the other is doing.
Therefore, CRISPR weapons are a fundamental game changer. Schelling’s balanced, no win,
bargaining, nonzero sum game approaches the classic zero-sum game where the player
who attacks ﬁrst may win all. By Schelling’s own reasoning, this makes for a highly unstable
Even more destabilizing is the ease of entry into the CRISPR technology. That means that
even players with limited resources can attain powerful positions in the international arms
arena. That means a two or three player game becomes a multiplayer game of highly imperfect
information with no rational solution.
On the one hand, CRISPR oﬀers tremendous opportunities in biotechnology, the medical and
biological sciences, including disease prevention and food production.
On the other hand, CRISPR weapons destroy the delicate strategic balance of power that has
kept the world free of catastrophic wars. We facing a technology potentially more danger-
ous than nuclear weapons because of its ease of development and precision of applicability.
The precise targeting of a CRISPR-kill-virus means that there is no longer the hinderance of
mutually assured destruction that has kept a nuclear catastrophe at bay. Instead we face the
possibility of precise, targeted mass genocide.
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