Tag Archives: bioterror

Biological Weapons Proliferation: spreading desease


The World Health Organisation (WHO), animal health and national defence officers called for wider international co-operation to avoid the spread of animal diseases that could be used as biological weapons.  Sixty percent of human diseases come from animal agents and 80% of the agents that could be used for bio-terrorism are of animal origin, said Bernard Vallat, director general of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).

“History has shown animal diseases have often been used as weapons before. Advances in genetics can now make them even more harmful. So we are calling for further investment to be made at national level on bio-security,” Vallat said at a conference on biological threat reduction.  Diseases have spread from animals to humans for millennia, with latest examples including the bird flu virus that has killed hundreds of people around the globe.

The OIE and the WHO warned animal disease agents could escape naturally, accidentally but also intentionally from laboratories, to be used as bio-weapons….Security breaches involving animal diseases are not rare.  The Pentagon said in May 2015 and June the US military had sent live samples of anthrax, which can be used as biological weapon, to five countries outside the United States and to dozens of US labs.

Excerpts from Beware of animal diseases as biological weapons, health experts say, Reuters, June 30, 2015

Predator Bacteria: the DARPA program


The  Pathogen Predators Program of DARPA would represent a significant departure from conventional antibacterial therapies that rely on small molecule antibiotics. While antibiotics have been remarkably effective in the past, their widespread use has led to the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections that are difficult or impossible to treat. In vitro studies have shown that predators such as Bdellovibrio bacteriovorus and Micavibrio aeruginosavorus can prey upon more than one hundred different human pathogens and will also prey on multi-drug resistant bacteria.

The Pathogen Predators program will answer three fundamental questions about bacterial predators:

1) Are predators toxic to recipient (host) organisms?
2) Against what pathogens (prey) are predators effective?
3) Can pathogens develop resistance to predation?

This list [of bacteria that could be killed by predator bacteria] includes NIAID (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases) Category A and B threats to national security:

NIAID Category A and B
Yersinia pestis (i.e. plague)
Francisella tularensis (i.e. tularemia)
Brucella species
Coxiella burnetii (i.e. Q fever)
Rickettsia prowazekii (i.e.  typhus)
Burkholderia mallei (i.e. glanders)
Burkholderia pseudomallei (i.e. melioidosis)

Source DARRA (pdf)

Biosecurity: Censuring Research on Bird Flu

In December 2011 the scientific world was taken aback by an odd request. The American government, in the shape of the country’s National Scientific Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB), called on the world’s two leading scientific journals to censor research. Nature and Science were about to publish studies by researchers who had been tinkering with H5N1 influenza, better known as bird flu, to produce a strain that might be able to pass through the air between people. The NSABB fretted that were the precise methods and detailed genetic data to fall into the wrong hands, the consequences would be too awful to contemplate. They suggested that only the broad conclusions be made public; the specifics could be sent to vetted scientists only….

The WHO, for its part, said in a statement to Science that research like that of Dr Fouchier and Dr Kawaoka is “an important tool for global surveillance efforts”. The organisation also worries that limiting access to relevant findings would be difficult to square with its recently updated pandemic influenza preparedness framework. This agreement, which stipulates that countries which provide virus samples should also receive the benefits of research, was preceded by four years of rancorous debate. If anything can be said for certain, then, it is that the gulf between those in favour of tighter controls and those against will be hard to bridge in a mere two months.

Excerpt, Flu research and public safety: Influenza and its complications, Economist, Jan. 28, at 77