Ron Howard’s latest foray into the Dan Brown novels titled ‘‘Inferno’’ hits theaters today and has the renown Professor Robert Langdon racing against the clock to stop the plans of a madman, Bertran Zobrist (Ben Foster) to release a bioweapon that would exterminate half of the world’s population. While the film takes place in the here and now, it does make you wonder if a bioweapon that can genetically attach to certain people and kill them can actually exist. ScienceFiction.com asked Caltech biologist Dr. Alexei Aravin this very question.
In the film, Zobrist believed that due to the rapidly increase of the world’s population, the Earth would no longer be able to support humanity and human extinction would soon occur. To prevent this extinction, Zobrist planned to unleash a global virus that would wipe out half of the world’s population. With clues from the work of Dante’s epic poem, Langon has to find where this virus is hidden before it can be released. To add a measure of reality to the film, Ron Howard actually enlisted the help of philosopher and futurist Jason Silva to help build the harrowing YouTube video Zobrist produces to support his idea that over population will lead to human extinction. Yet, how realistic is this idea?
Dr. Aravin is one of the world’s leading biologist and while he didn’t directly consult on ‘Inferno,’ Sony has dubbed him the scientific spokesman for the film. Here’s what Dr. Aravin had to say about how real a bioweapon like that seen in the film really is:
“From a theoretical perspective it is possible to design a virus that will kill a lot of people but to predict how it will behave, I think that is much more difficult. On one hand, it is not totally out of reality. There are already dangerous viruses and we can make it more dangerous, but if someone indeed decided to make a virus to kill a significant fraction of the world’s population… will they be able to do it? I think probably not. Luckily for everybody.
If it is possible to have a virus like we saw [in the movie], what I think is impossible is to design it and predict how it will exactly behave…. What exactly will happen when it is released? What section of people will be [affected]?”
So while scientists can design biological weapons, testing them can be a tricky thing in this day and age.
With movies like ‘Inferno,’ continuing to tout stories of global pandemics caused by biological weapons, thankfully, for now, the concept is still considered only science fiction.
Directed by Ron Howard, ‘Inferno’ stars Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Omar Sy, Ben Foster, Irrfan Khan, and Sidse Babett Knudsen. ‘Inferno’ is currently in theaters now.