• 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.

  • BiodefenseLawmaker criticizes closure of biodefense lab

    President Trump’s FY2018 budget, released last week, zeroes out funding for the National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center (NBACC) in Frederick, Maryland and calls for its closure. NBACC, operated by DHS, supports preparedness planning, intelligence assessments and bio-forensic analysis. The lab often assists the FBI in investigating bioterrorism and bio-crime and employs over 180 people.

  • R&DStudy: NIH funding generates large numbers of private-sector patents

    By Peter Dizikes

    Research grants issued by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) contribute to a significant number of private-sector patents in biomedicine, according to a new study. The study, published in the journal Science, examines twenty-seven years of data and finds that 31 percent of NIH grants, which are publicly funded, produce articles that are later cited by patents in the biomedical sector. “The impact on the private sector is a lot more important in magnitude than what we might have thought before,” says one of the researchers.

  • Plum IslandBill proposes sea mammal protection zone around Plum Island

    Three Long Island lawmakers on 1 June introduced a bill which would create a marine mammal and sea turtle protection zone around Plum Island and two other environmentally sensitive eastern Islands. The bill is expected to get a full vote in the legislature next week.

  • Plum IslandHouse temporarily halts sale of Plum Island

    New York and Connecticut lawmakers who have been campaigning against the sale of Plum Island by the federal government, have won an impressive victory as the U.S. House of Representatives voted unanimously on Monday to halt efforts to sell the property, at least temporarily. Plum Island, located of the north-eastern tip of Long Island, has for decades housed a high-security biolab in which research into deadly animal diseases pathogens. The aging lab is closing, and its operations will be moved to a modern high-security lab being built in the campus of Kansas State University.

  • Plum IslandPlum Island may be turned into a national park rather than sold to developers

    Members of the New York and Connecticut congressional delegations announced on Friday a plan to launch a study of Plum Island’s natural and historic resources, saying the plan is one step toward halting the sale of the island to developers. In 2009 DHS said the island would be sold to developers to help fund the new BioLab Level 4 on the campus of Kansas State University, which is set to open in 2022.

  • BiodefenseDHS S&T launches $100,000 prize competition to support NBAF facility

    DHS S&T announced the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) Think and Do Challenge, a prize competition that seeks ideas to leverage NBAF resources in order to conduct research to protect the nation’s animal agricultural industry and public health. S&T says that it will award up to $100,000 to help fund the development or implementation of winning submissions through the NBAF Think and Do Challenge, under the authority of the America COMPETES Act.

  • Synthetic biologyU.S. defense agencies dominate federal synthetic biology research

    A new analysis finds the Defense Department and its Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) fund much of the U.S. government’s research in synthetic biology, with less than 1 percent of total federal funding going to risk research. Between 2008 and 2014, the United States invested approximately $820 million dollars in synthetic biology research. In that time period, the Defense Department became a key funder of synthetic biology research. DARPA’s investments, for example, increased from near zero in 2010 to more than $100 million in 2014 — more than three times the amount spent by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

  • BiolabsNew book details safety, security methods for biosciences sites

    Recent mishaps at laboratories which mishandled potentially dangerous biological substances and the transmission of the Ebola virus in a U.S. hospital are symptoms at bioscience facilities that two Sandia National Laboratories researchers think could be prevented by implementing the practices in a new book on biorisk management. The new book, Laboratory Biorisk Management: Biosafety and Biosecurity, is the first full-length manuscript on the detailed implementation of biorisk management.

  • Biolabs cybersecurity Researchers carefully protect dangerous pathogens – but how secure are all their data?

    By Carole Baskin

    Ebola, smallpox, anthrax and many others: the most dangerous microorganisms are strictly regulated in the United States. The federal government oversees use of sixty-five so-called select agents with “the potential to pose a severe threat to public, animal or plant health, or to animal or plant products.” There has never been as much research performed with these pathogens —to learn more, find cures, or create vaccines — as in the past decade. The sprawl of high containment laboratories has led to a parallel increase in individuals with access to these agents. As of January 2015, approximately 11,000 individuals were on the list. The deadly infectious agents must be kept safely under lock and key, where they can’t threaten the general population or fall into the wrong hands. But even the most physically secure research lab could be the site of a devastating data security breach. As they stand now, information security guidelines published by science regulators with regard to select agents lack the critical level of detail needed to protect data effectively.

  • BiolabsCDC to review oversight of bioterror labs as concerns grow over lax supervision

    Tom Frieden, the director of the CDC, has ordered a review of how the agency oversees and implements safety and security measures in bioterror laboratories across the country. Documents obtained through FOIA request show that dozens of labs handling the most dangerous bioterror pathogens have time and again failed to comply with key safety and security measures, but CDC inspectors allowed these labs to operate for years before offering to put them on a “performance improvement” plan. Even when inspectors identified significant violations of safety or security practices in work with “Tier 1” select agents – the deadliest of bioterror weapons — the agency only “strongly recommend[ed]” the labs stop work with the pathogens, but without mandating it.