As a civilian sitting far away from the inner core of the government, I always like to harbour a happy illusion/delusion that somewhere in India, there well-funded secret organisations sitting and doing science that matters. And I do this because I want to believe that my government understands the threats that are surely coming our way, from artificial intelligence to cyber security to drones to lasers and million more technologies that are emerging fast.

But, more than all the Frankensteinian war machines developed in labs across the world, what really scares me is the fact that right in our midst is a 3.7 billion year old research lab with a Scientist with only one idea in mind, and that is to weaponise the science that He is developing constantly for all these billions of years.

The bitter-most truth of planet earth is, we humans are not only at war with each other. We are part of an ancient war that no one has won, as yet. It offers battles that you can win by staying ahead in a high-tech arms race, and the day you can’t, you are asked to leave the Garden of Eden.

We humans are a really young species with no real claim to glory when it comes to winning battles that are fought using biology, and as we are part of the visible and large “life”, we have very little access to the most rapidly developing end of the arms race where microbial life forms with access to volume and scale use evolution to weaponise biology.

As a slow ageing and even slower breeding species, we can no longer depend on evolution to help us, so our survival depends on the technologies that we develop in our labs, and this is where Indian defence apparatus needs to answer a question that I am worried about.

How many Bio-Safety Level 4 (BSL4) laboratories are there in India that can work on the sharp end of biology that can really hurt?

Even if I am ready to fall for a completely stupid delusion that humans in other nations are benevolent angels full of love for humanity and thus are not weaponsing biology, I need an answer to this question, as it is yet again posed by Coronavirus, and the answer available to me in civilian space is really scary.

As per the information available in public domain, we have only three facilities with BSL-4 rating, and if you are a layman like me, these are the only labs that can be allowed to do research on virulent pathogens like Coronavirus.

As a 1.3 billion strong tropical nation where pathogens, their non-human hosts, their vectors and humans are rubbing shoulders in densely populated cities that serve as evolution-accelerator labs, we are a nation where biology is building weapons of mass destruction, or rather mass extinction, and yet our response to this high-probability possibility is nothing more than three BSL-4 labs.

While India is always shy about talking defence using aggression, and hence the idea of India weaponsing biology can be off the table, at least in public domain conversations, but what Indian government should urgently recognise is the need of establishing more and more BSL-4 level labs because of the rising threat of virulent pathogens.

If we add climate change (that will increase vector threat) and Pangaea-like interconnected world where a virus can travel from one end of the globe to other in less than a day, and if we don’t recognise the threat that biology offers, we could be making a huge mistake that can result into a tragedy of a nature and scale that our nation may not be able to survive.