Why we need to take the threat of bioengineered superbugs seriously.
Mother nature is a very efficient “bioterrorist.” We have seen this time and time again as new diseases have emerged, like Ebola, SARS, and henipaviruses. During the current pandemic, it’s been alleged that people created a new pathogen in the Wuhan lab - and even that it’s been released as a deliberate act of bioterrorism.
So how could we determine definitively if Covid-19 was a naturally occurring or bioengineered outbreak? The simple answer is: it’s complicated.
Melinda Gates recently declared that the biggest threat to humanity is a pandemic brought on by a bioterrorist attack.
Biological attacks have the potential for the most catastrophic effects outside of nuclear weapons, but there are significant difficulties associated with attacks using living weapons. Aum Shinrikyo experimented with anthrax, botulinum toxin, cholera, Q fever, and even ebola, from 1990–95, but was unsuccessful due to unsophisticated delivery mechanisms and nonvirulent strains.17 The mechanism through which the lone actor Bruce Ivins chose to disperse anthrax-causing spores—a letter—was also unsophisticated and, fortunately, although his expertise and access allowed him to produce a sophisticated agent, it was not dispersed at a catastrophic scale.
Modern terrorists have proved that they are willing to kill on a large scale, and that they will seek to acquire or develop WMDs to do so. Aum Shinrikyo’s toxic legacy and the threat of such an attack will only grow as technologies and expertise in chemistry, medicine and biology become more globalised in the 21st century.
Research into dangerous viruses and bacteria is important, but for the deadliest pathogens, it’s not clear the benefits are worth the risks.
New genetic tools are making it easier and cheaper to engineer viruses and bacteria, and a report commissioned by the Department of Defense has now ranked the top threats posed by the rapidly advancing field of "synthetic biology."
One of the biggest concerns is the ability to recreate known viruses from scratch in the lab. That means a lab could make a deadly virus that is normally kept under lock and key, such as smallpox.
Which brings me to the subject of biowar -- the use of microbes to attack target populations. This is not a new idea. Europeans gave Native Americans blankets tainted with smallpox during the early colonial period, knowing their lack of resistance to the disease would wipe out whole tribes. What is new today is that virulent pathogens -- microorganisms that spread disease -- can be readily spawned in laboratories.
Now, all drugs have biological activity, or they wouldn’t be drugs. But some of them are definitely more active than others, and BTX is at the far end of the scale. To give you the idea, on a mg-per-kilo basis, I believe that its fatal dose is at least five orders of magnitude lower than Sarin nerve gas, a fact that will definitely make an industrial safety director sit down and think about career options. There are quite a few wildly toxic peptides and proteins, since they’ve had plenty of time for evolution to sharpen the spear points, but to the best of my knowledge, botulinum is the winner.
Currently, some toxins are classified as potential biological weapons, although they have several differences from classic living bio-terror pathogens and some similarities to manmade chemical warfare agents. This review focuses on category A and B bio-terror toxins recognized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Botulinum neurotoxin, staphylococcal enterotoxin B, Clostridium perfringens epsilon toxin, and ricin.
The Lawrence Livermore Microbial Detection Array (LLMDA) is but a one-inch wide, three-inch long glass slide, but packed in a checkerboard pattern within the device are 388,000 probes set to detect more than 2,000 viruses and about 900 bacteria.
Altogether, these incidents have been leading some to question whether current oversight of research on dangerous pathogens is sufficient and even suggest that some of this research isn't safe enough to continue.
Is the rise of amateur gene enthusiasts working in make-shift labs a harmless pursuit or a potential bioterrorism threat? The third part of this biohacking series reveals the concerns of the FBI and the community, and why views differ on what to do about it.
This article explains the concepts of biological warfare and its states of development, its utilization, and the attempts to control its proliferation throughout history. The threat of bioterrorism is real and significant; it is neither in the realm of science fiction nor confined to our nation.
This article attempts to eliminate some of that mystery by discussing the history and background of biological weapons and by reviewing agents that cause cutaneous disease.
The ability to acquire key ingredients via the Internet, and to ‘hire’ individuals with the scientific knowledge to make biological weapons, means that bioterrorism is, and will remain, an omnipresent risk.
Biological weapons have a long and sordid history, from catapulting infected corpses to dropping bombs of plague-infected fleas. But what if a biological weapon were being developed and studied by scientists that had the potential to kill not a battalion or a city, but 150 million people?
Government concern about bioterrorism has also led to new federal restrictions on the handling of infectious agents; such rules have hampered both the ability of U.S. researchers to participate in international collaborations and efforts to train foreign scientists in this
We should never doubt that terrorist adversaries are intelligent, have sophisticated and ever-advancing capabilities to inflict devastating casualties, or fully lack the will to do so. To believe otherwise could potentially be a deadly mistake.
Smallpox maliciously released in London would spread to several countries before governments could intervene, a new model predicts.
Concerns are also mounting that gene editing could be used in the development of biological weapons. In 2016, Bill Gates remarked that “the next epidemic could originate on the computer screen of a terrorist intent on using genetic engineering to create a synthetic version of the smallpox virus”.
Bioterrorism is back in the news with word of a dangerous new strain of botulism, for which there is no antidote. The strain is so powerful, the researchers who discovered it won't release its genetic code until an antidote is found because they fear it will fall into the wrong hands.
Conspiracy theories are highly contagious. Here’s why they’re wrong.
The specter of a biological attack is difficult for almost anyone to imagine. It makes of the most mundane object, death: a doorknob, a handshake, a breath can become poison. Like a nuclear bomb, the biological weapon threatens such a spectacle of horror — skin boiling with smallpox pustules, eyes blackened with anthrax lesions, the rotting bodies of bubonic plagues — that it can seem the province of fantasy or nightmare or, worse, political manipulation. Yet biological weapons are as old as war itself.
Fears of bioterrorism are overblown. We should be spending much more money, time, effort, and print (including e-print) on naturally occurring outbreaks, epidemics, and human behavioral risk factors.
It's easy to make, but it's also not very effective as a biological weapon, scientists say.
WHEN IT COMES to detecting new organisms that emerge from exotic places and cause global havoc, the US military is ready. The Pentagon operates infectious disease labs and surveillance networks in places like Kenya, Georgia, and Thailand, as well as a giant research center and vaccine-making unit just outside Washington, DC.
In early September, 1984, a woman stood in front of the Taco Time salsa bar in The Dalles, Ore., holding a small plastic bag filled with light brown liquid. Quickly and furtively, she squirted the solution into the salsa bucket and poured a little into the salad dressing. The largest bioterrorist attack in United States history had begun.
The attack on The Dalles Taco Time salsa bar and nine other restaurants remains the first, largest, and worst bioterrorism attack in the U.S.
Efforts to harness the power of toxic chemicals and deadly organisms have been at the core of chemical and biological attacks throughout history. This package chronicles such incidents before and after Syria's recent alleged chemical weapon attack on civilians outside Damascus.
They have similar dangers—and similar potential benefits.
Biological agents have been used since antiquity to attack the enemies. The ancient Hittites marched victims of plague into the cities of their enemies; Herodotus talks of archers’ firing arrows dipped in manure to cause infection. In 650 BC, Assyrian politicians dumped fungus from rye into their opponents’ wells, causing people to suffer from fatal ergot poisoning.
We are the students and faculty of the George Mason University Schar School of Policy and Government Biodefense program. This site’s goal is to provide a knowledge hub for biodefense related issues and to share our work with the world.
Welcome to the companion Web site to "Bioterror," originally broadcast on November 13, 2001. The film follows three New York Times reporters as they delve into the murky past of bioweapons research and grapple with the current threat of anthrax and other attacks.
Webliography, articles, links and resources.
Some bioterrorism agents, like the smallpox virus, can be spread from person to person and some, like anthrax, can not. For information on which bioterrorism agents can be spread from person to person, please see the alphabetical list of bioterrorism agents.
The Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP; "SID-wrap") is a global leader in addressing public health preparedness and emerging infectious disease response. Founded in 2001, CIDRAP is part of the Academic Health Center at the University of Minnesota.
Biosecurity and biodefense resource
Chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive (CBRNE) events refer to the uncontrolled release of chemicals, biological agents or radioactive contamination into the environment or explosions that cause widespread damage. CBRNE events can be caused by accidents or by terrorist acts.
Understanding of microbial life forms allowed us to combat numerous diseases and prevent ourselves from harmful pathogens. On the contrary, hatred among ourselves diverted our precious scientific knowledge to harm each other and gave rise to the biological warfare in terms of bioterrorism. The journal considers different topics under the biodefense and bioterrorism subject.
Biodefense and bioterrorism news, articles, information.
The use of micro-organisms to cause disease is a growing concern for public health officials and agricultural bodies. The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 and the subsequent bio-terrorist releases of anthrax have led to an increased awareness of workplaces as possible terrorist targets.
The threat of biological weapons poses unique challenges for government officials charged with devising immediate and longer-term response plans. RAND has developed exercises to train and evaluate the preparedness of state and local public health agencies to respond to bioterrorism. RAND researchers have also examined the longer-term psychological consequences of bioterrorism and created guidelines to improve individual preparedness for chemical, radiological, nuclear, and biological attacks.