Tue. Oct 26th, 2021


This is an audio heading of the FT News Briefing podcast episode: DIY gene editing

Marc Filippino
Good morning from the Financial Times. It’s Monday, October 4th, and this is your FT newsletter.

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A war of words over the IMF’s managing director could end this week at a top Deutsche Bank official, telling FT that good compliance could be painful for the company. What do you get when you combine gene editing tools like CRISPR with YouTube? A whole bunch of biohackers.

Izabella Kaminska
When you think of the crazy scientist in his garage, he blows himself up. Guys work from the net because they only have a compulsion to do so.

Marc Filippino
Our Alphaville editor, Izabella Kaminska, has met some amateur gene scientists and shares some of their concerns. I’m Marc Filippino, here’s the news you need to start your day.

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The board of the International Monetary Fund is meeting this week to discuss allegations against the IMF’s managing director. Kristalina Georgieva is accused of manipulating data to benefit China while in her previous role at the World Bank. In a report commissioned by the bank’s board, she is responsible for falsifying scores in the 2018 edition of the bank’s influential Doing Business report so that China can rise in the rankings. Here’s the FT’s Jonathan Wheatley.

Jonathan Wheatley
This has been followed very, very widely. Governments put great pressure on the World Bank every year to favorably evaluate their reform efforts. It is actually widely used by foreign investors who are considering investing in a country. And if a country ranks high in the rankings or schools, it is considered a better investment prospect for direct investment. Like people I spoke to while reporting on this story said that billions of dollars are hanging on to it.

Marc Filippino
Jonathan, what could this mean for the World Bank’s reputation? I mean, the investigation was done by a prominent law firm, WilmerHale, and that says a lot, right?

Jonathan Wheatley
Well, there is a lot to be said about it. But basically the implication, the suggestion, actually the very convincing evidence from the WilmerHale report, is that the numbers were manipulated. The big implication of this is that you can not trust data from the World Bank. And as the report indicates, Kristalina Georgieva was involved. If that’s true and I can not stress enough, she absolutely denies it. But the noise that is there is that if we are true, can we trust the numbers at the IMF? And certainly, I have talked to quite a few people at the IMF, who serve members of the IMF staff. Now, after it came out, we say that we feel our work has been undermined.

Marc Filippino
Jonathan, what are we talking about here in terms of seriousness? Can Georgieva lose her job? And you know, what would that mean for the IMF in general?

Jonathan Wheatley
Well, that’s the big question. I mean, that’s what everyone’s looking for. I mean, there were several high profile statements of support. Many people would say that Kristalina Georgieva had a fantastic pandemic. She adopted the IMF and turned it into another development institution. Her critics would say that is one thing. The WilmerHale report is a separate thing, and we’re talking about management. We’re talking about cooking the books. I quoted a senior economist in the private sector who said: You know you end up not cooking the books. And if you do, you have no role in decision making. And a lot of people come out of the woodwork and say, I mean, just look at the comments among the stories we published in the FT, and say that she should go, that she should at least step aside, the investigation continues. But no, she’s coming to fight.

Marc Filippino
Jonathan Wheatley is the correspondent of emerging markets in the FT. Thanks, Jonathan.

Jonathan Wheatley
You are very welcome. Enjoyed chatting with you.

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Marc Filippino
Deutsche Bank has broken relationships with a very small number of wealthy customers with criminal records. This follows the arrest of the late financier, Jeffrey Epstein. The bank’s administrative head, Stefan Simon, told the FT that Deutsche Bank conducted an internal analysis following Epstein’s arrest in 2019, citing ‘other cases of customers who were on board in the past but today had to be considered differently ‘. Epstein was already a convicted sex offender when Deutsche Bank accepted him as a client. Simon reviews the bank’s compliance. He stressed that the attitude of bankers is the key to avoiding risks of compliance. He told the FT: “If in doubt, we should say no to customers and transactions.”

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We’ve heard a lot about computer hackers, right? Now, there’s a new phenomenon: biohackers. These are amateurs and academics who use no-till tools such as CRISPR and homemade laboratories and sometimes on their own bodies. The FT’s Izabella Kaminska spoke to some of these garage gene scientists and is now joining me. Hello, Izabella.

Izabella Kaminska
Hi.

Marc Filippino
Izabella, tell us a little bit about Paul Dabrowa, the amateur scientist you met. What kind of experiments does he do and what motivates him to do them?

Izabella Kaminska
He is therefore a very interesting character. He came to me months and months ago and tried to draw my attention to this growing problem of amateur scientists. He himself is a kind of politician, interested in a wide variety of disciplines, biology and microbiology and all these things. He is completely self-taught. And so he told me how easy it is, you know, he does it just for fun. He likes to make beer glow, and it’s really accessible these days because you can buy these kits from the internet. And as a result, he learned, just in the spirit of an attempt to try it, I would call him more of a penetration testing mindset if he could do it, then someone else could do it. And so his kind of compulsion came from, just to see if he could do these things himself.

Marc Filippino
And he contacted you not only to tell you everything he could do, but also to let you know about his concerns, even about national security. What are they?

Izabella Kaminska
So I think one of the biggest just is the fact that the cost of all the materials is going down and that things like DNA synthesizers are very easy to get your hands on. If you have one of them, and the door is open for all kinds of experiments. And so he let me down on how easy it is theoretically. You can reasonably download a series, and in some ways, such as downloading your photos, so that you can upload the digital information to one of these service providers, who will then send you an example of this type of DNA-based information. a flask, which can then be used in laboratory experiments. It’s not a live virus right now, but it’s the way you can produce a live virus if you have the knowledge. Everyone who has a common sense is not going to do these experiments in the kitchen without taking precautions. But if amateurs can do it, his concern is simply that someone who is more about this or has an agenda, says an abominable agenda, and the means and access to capital to get it right, can certainly achieve much greater things. And that’s really the concern from the security side.

Marc Filippino
Izabella, scientists, amateur biohackers, say they can be more innovative if they do not have to deal with a bureaucracy that secures money. What do you make of that argument?

Izabella Kaminska
Well, I think I think you know what I learned from this whole process is that science is a compulsion. They are natural vowels and they will tamper with things whether you say you should not or not. And it is truly in the spirit of innovation and in the history of the great kind of scientists through the ages that has pushed mankind forward. When you think of the crazy scientist in his garage, he inflates himself, or even on the narrower side, like a figure like a Frankenstein. And if you’re a kind of free radical, you’re not necessarily very good at checking orders or submitting subsidy requests, or you can handle a lot of bureaucracy. But the big difference is that I think in the biological field, because of technologies like CRISPR, the access to some of the technologies and what they can achieve and the consequences of that and how the viruses they work with, whether they are contained or not. The consequences are many, possibly more deadly, because if a scientist inflates himself in the laboratory, it’s a reasonable accident. But with a pathogen, as we all know by now, the potential is natural for it to spread, in a chain reaction all over the world.

Marc Filippino
When he returns to Paul Dabrowa, does he have an idea of ​​where this could lead and how biohacking should be controlled or managed?

Izabella Kaminska
There are different views on how you should manage it because you do not want to stifle innovation. It is so important that it keeps happening. And Paul Dabrowa’s idea is that you should know that we need to effectively stop this ability from becoming a poor man, because that’s what it is. It has the potential to kill as many people as a nuclear weapon. But it is simple that the comparative cost is so much lower. As you know, to manage a nuclear submarine or a nuclear fleet. A nuclear arsenal is a billion-billion-dollar business, right? While setting up a bio-security level three laboratory, the cost is much lower and can be done from the network. He therefore says that the best way to manage it is to make the whole supply chain really expensive. And if you like to find choking points and control them, then hopefully you can manage the supply chain and at least make it more expensive to create a deadly pathogen in some kind of amateur lab.

Marc Filippino
Izabella Kaminska is the FT’s Alphaville editor. Thank you, Izabella.

Izabella Kaminska
Thank you.

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Marc Filippino
You can read more about all these stories on FT.com. This was your daily FT News Briefing. Visit again tomorrow for the latest business news.

This transcript was generated automatically. If there is an error, please send the details for a correction to: typo@ft.com. We will do our best to make the amendment as soon as possible.



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