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Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

A bipartisan commission is recommending an "Apollo Program" to enhance U.S. biodefense — including against engineered viruses.

Why it matters: COVID-19, which will cost millions of lives and trillions of dollars, shuts the door on any argument that new diseases aren't a major global threat. But as biotechnology improves, we especially need ways to detect and deter pathogens designed by human beings, not just by nature.

Driving the news: On Tuesday, the Bipartisan Commission on Biodefense released a set of recommendations outlining how the U.S. could end pandemic threats — both natural and man-made — by 2030.

  • The commission — which is co-chaired by former Sen. Joe Lieberman and former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge — argues for spending up to $10 billion a year to speed up vaccine prototypes, enhance genomic sequencing capabilities, and create a national public health data system, among other recommendations.

Details: The report's conclusions are solid, and they're bolstered by the fact that the commission made much the same argument in 2015, years before COVID-19. But I was particularly interested to see the attention paid to the threat of man-made pathogens.

  • The report noted that "advances in biotechnology have also made it easier to obtain or modify these pathogens, creating the possibility of pandemics emerging from deliberate attacks or laboratory accidents."
  • The commission focused on the need to develop techniques to "distinguish natural and engineered DNA and to inform attribution" of any new pathogens.

What's next: In a recent competition, hundreds of teams around the world developed algorithms designed to predict the origin of genetically engineered DNA sequences.

  • The best teams were able to predict the source lab of an unfamiliar engineered DNA sequence over 95% of the time, an improvement over the top previous results.
  • Such algorithms can be useful for regulating genetic engineering by ensuring that any edited sequences can be tied back to their point of origin.
  • But none of the algorithms would be able to determine for sure whether an unknown DNA sequence was natural or engineered, notes Lane Warmbrod, a senior analyst at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

The bottom line: We can't stumble blindly into a world where DNA can be engineered like computer code.

Go deeper

Mike Allen, author of AM
4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Biden adviser Cedric Richmond sees first-term progress on reparations

Illustration: "Axios on HBO"

White House senior adviser Cedric Richmond told "Axios on HBO" that it's "doable" for President Biden to make first-term progress on breaking down barriers for people of color, while Congress studies reparations for slavery.

Why it matters: Biden said on the campaign trail that he supports creation of a commission to study and develop proposals for reparations — direct payments for African-Americans.

Cyber CEO: Next war will hit regular Americans online

Any future real-world conflict between the United States and an adversary like China or Russia will have direct impacts on regular Americans because of the risk of cyber attack, Kevin Mandia, CEO of cybersecurity company FireEye, tells "Axios on HBO."

What they're saying: "The next conflict where the gloves come off in cyber, the American citizen will be dragged into it, whether they want to be or not. Period."

Cedric Richmond: We won't wait on GOP for "insufficient" stimulus

Top Biden adviser Cedric Richmond told "Axios on HBO" the White House believes it has bipartisan support for a stimulus bill outside the Beltway.

  • "If our choice is to wait and go bipartisan with an insufficient package, we are not going to do that."

The big picture: The bill will likely undergo an overhaul in the Senate after House Democrats narrowly passed a stimulus bill this weekend, reports Axios' Kadia Goba.