Saving the world from Ebola suddenly sounds so simple, as the solution spills from Colonel Dan Wattendorf’s mouth, up on the stage in the windowless banquet hall of this Marriott hotel south of San Francisco.
“We’re going to take the genetic code and put it into a format where you go to your drug store or doctor and get a shot in the arm,” Wattendorf told a room full of medical researchers and technologists. “There’s a low-cost of goods, no cold chain, and we would produce the correct antibody in [any] individual directly.”
Wattendorf, a clean-cut, angular triathlete, is a program manager for the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the military’s far-out research wing. On this day, he’s speaking at a DARPA-sponsored conference called Biology Is Technology. And he’s telling the assembled group what he will reiterate in a one-on-one interview with me later: that the agency is on the verge of a revolutionary way of preventing mass outbreaks of diseases like Ebola. If the system worked, many pandemic scenarios could be crossed off the “How the Apocalypse Could Happen” list. Dystopian novels and sci-fi shows would need to find a new set of plot points.
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