• Perspective: PandemicsGlobal Pandemic Threat: “Human Error” Leak of Lab Virus Now a “Substantial Probability”

    Lynn Klotz, Senior Science Fellow at the Centre for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation said: “There is a substantial probability that a pandemic with over one hundred million fatalities could be seeded from an undetected lab-acquired infection.” Laboratories run by Ron Fouchier in the Netherlands and Yoshihiro Kawaoka in Madison, Wisconsin have begun a “research enterprise” aimed at creating mammalian-airborne-transmissible, highly pathogenic, avian-influenza live viruses. Such viruses could be transmitted through the air, similar to seasonal human influenza.

  • Perspective: Biosafety labsBiosafety Levels in Laboratories – What is the Difference?

    The United States is home to several types of laboratories that conduct medical research on a variety of infectious biological agents to promote the development of new diagnostic tests, medical countermeasures, and treatments. The CDC has devised a system of Biosafety Labs (BSL) designations. Ranked from lowest to the highest level of containment, they are BSL-1, BSL-2, BSL-3, and BSL-4. The BSL designations outline specific safety and facility requirements to achieve the appropriate biosafety and biocontainment. The BSL is assigned based on the type of infectious agent on which the research is being conducted. For example, a BSL-4 conducts research on dangerous and exotic agents with a high-risk of causing life-threatening disease, the possibility of aerosol transmission, and no known treatment or therapy (e.g., Marbug virus, Congo-Crimean virus, Ebola virus).

  • Perspective: Mind gamesThe Secret History of Fort Detrick, the CIA’s Base for Mind Control Experiments

    Suburban sprawl has engulfed Fort Detrick, an Army base 50 miles from Washington in the Maryland town of Frederick. seventy-six years ago, however, when the Army selected Detrick as the place to develop its super-secret plans to wage germ warfare, the area around the base looked much different. In fact, it was chosen for its isolation. For decades, much of what went on at the base was a closely held secret. Directors of the CIA mind control program MK-ULTRA, which used Detrick as a key base, destroyed most of their records in 1973. Some of its secrets have been revealed in declassified documents, through interviews and as a result of congressional investigations. Together, those sources reveal Detrick’s central role in MK-ULTRA and in the manufacture of poisons intended to kill foreign leaders.

  • Perspective: Designer pathogensIs There a Role for the Biological Weapons Convention in Oversight of Lab-Created Potential Pandemic Pathogens?

    Fourteen labs in the United States are working on creating mammalian-airborne-transmissible, highly-pathogenic, avian-influenza live viruses. These viruses are examples of lab-created potentially pandemic pathogens that bring up questions reflecting real concerns: Should details of this dual-use research be published? Could lab-created potentially pandemic pathogens be accidentally released from a laboratory into the community and seed a human pandemic? Could they be employed as biological weapons? The probability of accidental release into the community from one of the laboratories in this research enterprise is uncomfortably high. For these and other lab-created potentially pandemic pathogens, just one laboratory-infected researcher could seed a pandemic. Furthermore, a laboratory worker with hostile intent could introduce a potentially pandemic pathogen into the community.

  • Designer pathogensPox on everybody’s house

    It was not so long ago that a NIH scientist stumbled across smallpox vials in a cold-storage room — and it was not during a time of increased concern for synthetic biology. Pandora Report notes that from CRISPR babies to garage DIY biohacking kits, it seems like the last few years have been inundated with synbio conversations.

  • BiothreatsBiolabs accidents, and genetic modification research

    Exposures to infectious diseases in Bioafety level-3 (BSL-3) and BSL-4 environments can be scary, but they do happen. Concern has always extended beyond the safety of the laboratory worker, but also that a pathogen of pandemic potential could be released. Other aspects of lab safety have raised concern as well, as more attention has been directed toward gain-of-function (GoF) research.

  • BiosecurityDOD lagging on lab biosecurity: GAO

    For three years, the DoD has been attempting to implement security reforms after reports revealed that an Army lab at the Dugway Proving Ground in Utah accidentally sent 575 live samples of Bacillus anthracis, the bacterium that causes anthrax, to 194 labs over the course of a decade. The GAO says the Department of Defense (DoD) is still short of meeting goals meant to improve the department’s biosafety and biosecurity programs, leaving government labs still at risk.

  • BiothreatsFunding restored to National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures lab

    The Fort Detrick, Maryland-based National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center (NBACC) is no longer facing an immediate jeopardy. The federal omnibus spending bill,  released last Wednesday evening, provided full funding for the biohazard laboratory – funding which the original administration’s budget proposal eliminated.

  • BiosafetyDozens of safety violations found at U.K. biolabs

    The U.K. Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said that there have been more than 40 incidents at high-security biolabs between June 2015 and July 2017. Mistakes led to staff being infected and falling ill at labs run by hospitals, private companies, and Public Health England.

  • BiosafetyBan on deadly pathogen research lifts, but controversy remains

    “Those who support such research think that it is necessary to develop strategies to fight rapidly evolving pathogens that pose a threat to public health, such as the flu virus, the viruses causing Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), or Ebola,” says Marc Lipsitch of Harvard Chan School. “But others, like myself, worry that human error could lead to the accidental release of a virus that has been enhanced in the lab so that it is more deadly or more contagious than it already is. There have already been accidents involving pathogens. For example, in 2014, dozens of workers at a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lab were accidentally exposed to anthrax that was improperly handled. Another accident like that—if it involved a virus that was both newly created and highly contagious—has the potential to jeopardize millions of people.”

  • BiodefenseCongressional amendments restore Maryland BioLab4 funding

    Members of the Maryland congressional delegation attached amendments to the Homeland Security and Defense Department authorization bills to prevent the closure of the National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center (NBACC) at Fort Detrick, Maryland. President Trump’s budget for 2018 had eliminated funding for NBACC as part of cutting the budget of DHS Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) by 28 percent. At the end of May 2017, the research center received a letter from DHS stating that the facility’s closing procedures should start on 1October, with anticipated decommissioning by 30 September 2018.

  • Disease outbreaksHarnessing AI to catch disease fast

    Up to 27,000 microbiology laboratories around the world could benefit from a ground-breaking automation technology. The Automated Plate Assessment System (APAS) can automatically screen microbiology culture plates for the presence of various disease-causing pathogens, revolutionizing the workflow in modern microbiology labs. The smart software uses artificial intelligence to analyze microbial growth in much the same way as a microbiologist would, but with faster and more consistent results.

  • Synthetic biologyIdentifying vulnerabilities posed by synthetic biology

    Given the possible security vulnerabilities related to developments in synthetic biology – a field that uses technologies to modify or create organisms or biological components – a new report by the National Academies of Sciences proposes a framework to identify and prioritize potential areas of concern associated with the field. “While biotechnology is being pursued primarily for beneficial and legitimate purposes, there are potential uses that are detrimental to humans, other species, and ecosystems,” says one of the report’s authors.

  • Bioresearch securityBiomedical research community should build resilience to disasters

    The academic biomedical research community should improve its ability to mitigate and recover from the impacts of disasters, says a new report from the National Academies of Sciences. The consequences of recent disasters, from hurricanes to cyberattacks, have shown that the investments of the U.S. federal government and other research sponsors — which total about $27 billion annually — are not uniformly secure. “Continuing scientific advancement and the promise of future discoveries will require a commitment to resilience — and an unparalleled partnership across the emergency management and academic research sectors,” says one of the report’s authors.

  • Plum IslandHouse passes bill to prevent sale of Plum Island to highest bidder

    The House of Representatives on 25 July passed a bipartisan bill, the Plum Island Preservation Act (H.R. 2182), which would prevent the sale of Plum Island by the federal government to the highest bidder. H.R. 2182, which you can view here, was sponsored by Representative  Lee Zeldin (R-New York), and has received unanimous support from the Long Island and Connecticut House delegations, as well as a coalition of over sixty-five local and national environmental groups.