LISTSERV mailing list manager LISTSERV 16.5

Help for SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE Archives


SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE Archives

SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE Archives


SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE@LIST.UVM.EDU


View:

Message:

[

First

|

Previous

|

Next

|

Last

]

By Topic:

[

First

|

Previous

|

Next

|

Last

]

By Author:

[

First

|

Previous

|

Next

|

Last

]

Font:

Proportional Font

LISTSERV Archives

LISTSERV Archives

SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE Home

SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE Home

SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE  July 2006

SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE July 2006

Subject:

Custom-Built Pathogens Raise Bioterror Fears

From:

Robt Mann <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Science for the People Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 31 Jul 2006 23:10:18 +1200

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (124 lines)

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/07/30/AR2006073000580.html
Custom-Built Pathogens Raise Bioterror Fears
By Joby Warrick
Washington Post Staff Writer
July 31, 2006. FRONT PAGE
edited

In 2002, Eckard Wimmer, a molecular geneticist, startled the 
scientific world by creating the first live, fully artificial virus 
in the lab. It was a variation of the bug that causes polio, yet 
different from any virus known to nature. And Wimmer built it from 
scratch.

The virus was made wholly from nonliving parts. The most crucial 
part, the genetic code, was picked up for free on the Internet. 
Hundreds of tiny bits of viral DNA were purchased online, with final 
assembly in the lab.

Wimmer intended to sound a warning, to show that science had crossed 
a threshold into an era in which genetically altered and 
made-from-scratch germ weapons were feasible.  But in the four years 
since, other scientists have made advances faster than Wimmer 
imagined possible.

A revolution in biology has ushered in an age of engineered microbes 
and novel ways to make them.
The new technology opens the door to new tools for defeating disease 
and saving lives. But today, in hundreds of labs worldwide, it is 
also possible to transform common intestinal microbes into killers. 
Or to make deadly strains even more lethal. Or to resurrect bygone 
killers, such the 1918 influenza. Or to manipulate a person's 
hormones by switching genes on or off. Or to craft cheap, efficient 
delivery systems that can infect large numbers of people.

"The biological weapons threat is multiplying and will do so 
regardless of the countermeasures we try to take," said Steven M. 
Block, a Stanford University biophysicist.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has declined so 
far to police the booming gene-synthesis industry, which churns out 
made-to-order DNA to sell to scientists.

How to Make a Virus

Wimmer's artificial virus looks and behaves like its natural cousin 
-- but with a far reduced ability to maim or kill -- and could be 
used to make a safer polio vaccine. But it was Wimmer's techniques, 
not his aims, that sparked controversy when news of his achievement 
hit the scientific journals.

As the creator of the world's first "de novo" virus -- a human virus, 
at that -- Wimmer came under attack from other scientists who said 
his experiment was a dangerous stunt. He was accused of giving ideas 
to terrorists, or, even worse, of inviting a backlash that could 
result in new laws restricting scientific freedom. Wimmer counters 
that he didn't invent the technology that made his experiment 
possible. He only drew attention to it. "To most scientists and lay 
people, the reality that viruses could be synthesized was surprising, 
if not shocking," he said. "We consider it imperative to inform 
society of this new reality, which bears far-reaching consequences."

"This," he said, "is a wake-up call."

The global biotech revolution underway is more than mere genetic 
engineering. It is genetic engineering on hyperdrive.  New scientific 
disciplines such as synthetic biology, practised not only in the 
United States but also in new white-coat enclaves in China and Cuba, 
seek not to tweak biological systems but to reinvent them.

The holy grail of synthetic biologists is the reduction of all life 
processes into building blocks -- interchangeable bio-bricks that can 
be reassembled into new forms.  The technology envisions new species 
of microbes built from the bottom up: "living machines from 
off-the-shelf chemicals" to suit the needs of science, said Jonathan 
Tucker, a bioweapons expert with the Washington-based Center for 
Non-Proliferation Studies. "It is possible to engineer living 
organisms the way people now engineer electronic circuits," Tucker 
said.

Racing to exploit each new discovery are dozens of countries, many of 
them in the developing world.
There's no binding treaty or international watchdog to safeguard 
against abuse. And the secrets of biology are available on the 
Internet for free, said geneticist Robert L. Erwin.  "It's too cheap, 
it's too fast, there are too many people who know too much," Erwin 
said, "and it's too late to stop it."

"Scientists creating new life forms cannot be allowed to act as judge 
and jury," Sue Mayer, a veterinary cell biologist and director of 
GeneWatch UK, said in a statement signed by 38 organizations. 
Activists are not the only ones concerned about where new technology 
could lead. Numerous studies by normally staid panels of scientists 
and security experts have also warned about the consequences of 
abuse. An unclassified CIA study in 2003 titled "The Darker 
Bioweapons Future" warned of a potential for a "class of new, more 
virulent biological agents engineered to attack" specific targets. 
"The effects of some of these engineered biological agents could be 
worse than any disease known to man," the study said.

It is not just the potential for exotic diseases that is causing 
concern. Harmless bacteria can be modified to carry genetic 
instructions that, once inside the body, can alter basic functions, 
such as immunity or hormone production, three biodefense experts with 
the Defense Intelligence Agency said in an influential report titled 
"Biotechnology: Impact on Biological Warfare and Biodefense."

Last fall, a British scientific journal, New Scientist, decided to 
contact some of these DNA-by-mail companies to show how easy it would 
be to obtain a potentially dangerous genetic sequence -- for example, 
DNA for a bacterial gene that produces deadly toxins.  Only five of 
the 12 firms that responded said they screened customers' orders for 
DNA sequences that might pose a terrorism threat.  Four companies 
acknowledged doing no screening at all. Under current laws, the 
companies are not required to screen.

"It would be possible -- fully legal -- for a person to produce 
full-length 1918 influenza virus or Ebola virus genomes, along with 
kits containing detailed procedures and all other materials for 
reconstitution," said Richard H. Ebright, a biochemist and professor 
at Rutgers University.  "It is also possible to advertise and to sell 
the product, in the United States or overseas."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Top of Message | Previous Page | Permalink

Advanced Options


Options

Log In

Log In

Get Password

Get Password


Search Archives

Search Archives


Subscribe or Unsubscribe

Subscribe or Unsubscribe


Archives

January 2022
December 2021
November 2021
October 2021
September 2021
August 2021
July 2021
June 2021
May 2021
April 2021
March 2021
February 2021
January 2021
December 2020
November 2020
October 2020
September 2020
August 2020
July 2020
June 2020
May 2020
April 2020
March 2020
February 2020
January 2020
December 2019
November 2019
October 2019
September 2019
August 2019
July 2019
June 2019
May 2019
April 2019
March 2019
February 2019
January 2019
December 2018
November 2018
October 2018
September 2018
August 2018
July 2018
June 2018
May 2018
April 2018
March 2018
February 2018
January 2018
December 2017
November 2017
October 2017
September 2017
August 2017
July 2017
June 2017
May 2017
April 2017
March 2017
February 2017
January 2017
December 2016
November 2016
October 2016
September 2016
August 2016
July 2016
June 2016
May 2016
April 2016
March 2016
February 2016
January 2016
December 2015
November 2015
October 2015
September 2015
August 2015
July 2015
June 2015
May 2015
April 2015
March 2015
February 2015
January 2015
December 2014
November 2014
October 2014
September 2014
August 2014
July 2014
June 2014
May 2014
April 2014
March 2014
February 2014
January 2014
December 2013
November 2013
October 2013
September 2013
August 2013
July 2013
June 2013
May 2013
April 2013
March 2013
February 2013
January 2013
December 2012
November 2012
October 2012
September 2012
August 2012
July 2012
June 2012
May 2012
April 2012
March 2012
February 2012
January 2012
December 2011
November 2011
October 2011
September 2011
August 2011
July 2011
June 2011
May 2011
April 2011
March 2011
February 2011
January 2011
December 2010
November 2010
October 2010
September 2010
August 2010
July 2010
June 2010
May 2010
April 2010
March 2010
February 2010
January 2010
December 2009
November 2009
October 2009
September 2009
August 2009
July 2009
June 2009
May 2009
April 2009
March 2009
February 2009
January 2009
December 2008
November 2008
October 2008
September 2008
August 2008
July 2008
June 2008
May 2008
April 2008
March 2008
February 2008
January 2008
December 2007
November 2007
October 2007
September 2007
August 2007
July 2007
June 2007
May 2007
April 2007
March 2007
February 2007
January 2007
December 2006
November 2006
October 2006
September 2006
August 2006
July 2006
June 2006
May 2006
April 2006
March 2006
February 2006
January 2006
December 2005
November 2005
October 2005
September 2005
August 2005
July 2005
June 2005
May 2005
April 2005
March 2005
February 2005
January 2005
December 2004
November 2004
October 2004
September 2004
August 2004
July 2004
June 2004
May 2004
April 2004
March 2004
February 2004
January 2004
December 2003
November 2003
October 2003
September 2003
August 2003
July 2003
June 2003
May 2003
April 2003
March 2003
February 2003
January 2003
December 2002
November 2002
October 2002
September 2002
August 2002
July 2002
June 2002
May 2002
April 2002
March 2002
February 2002
January 2002
December 2001
November 2001
October 2001
September 2001
August 2001
May 2001
March 2001
February 2001
January 2001
December 2000
November 2000
October 2000
September 2000
August 2000
July 2000
May 2000
April 2000
March 2000
February 2000
January 2000
December 1999
November 1999
October 1999
September 1999
August 1999
July 1999
June 1999
May 1999
April 1999
March 1999
February 1999
January 1999
December 1998
November 1998
September 1998
August 1998
July 1998
June 1998
May 1998

ATOM RSS1 RSS2



LIST.UVM.EDU

CataList Email List Search Powered by the LISTSERV Email List Manager