Biologist outlines plan for emailing vaccines

Craig Venter, a biologist and entrepreneur, announced an idea at a recent New York health conference to use 3D biological printers to print out biological molecules for vaccines via email.

Venter, a scientist who helped to sequence the human genome and created synthetic life with homemade genes, said the process could revolutionize healthcare. The emails would contain a sequence of DNA that a 3D printer could use to synthesize a vaccine, New Scientist reports.

DNA vaccines are not currently used in commercial vaccines for safety reasons, but the vaccines typically work well in experiments.

Debora MacKenzie, a Brussels correspondent for New Scientist, said that the bio printer could theoretically distribute vaccines for both civilian and military uses.

"Venter's bio-printer, in theory, could both make and distribute a macromolecular vaccine fast," MacKenzie said, according to New Scientist. "If everyone, or maybe every local clinic, had a bio-printer, a mass email of the vaccine specs should take care of a novel pandemic, or bioterror attack - or maybe even measles - in minutes. Simply print, and inject."

MacKenzie also theorized the idea going terribly wrong, putting forth a scenario in which a terrorist intercepts a vaccine email and uses it to get the victims to inject themselves with a biological weapon.

Venter made the announcement at the Wired Health Conference in New York earlier in October. He also put forth a plan to sequence DNA from Mars and send the results back to Earth, New Scientist reports.