• BiothreatsExperts question BioWatch’s replacement

    BioWatch, the program launched more than fifteen years ago to detect bioterrorism attacks in major American cities, has been routinely criticized for not living up to its early promise. Many have suggested doing away with the system all together. Trouble is, experts say that BioDetection 21 – DHS’s proposed replacement for BioWatch – is even less effective.

  • 2001 anthrax attacksDeath in the air: Revisiting the 2001 anthrax mailings and the Amerithrax investigation

    By Glenn Cross

    Time may have dimmed the memory of the 2001 anthrax attacks and the sense of urgency surrounding the efforts to identify the attacker. The attacks, which involved mailings of five anthrax-laced letters to prominent senators and media outlets, killed five individuals and made seventeen others ill. The anthrax mailings played a crucial role in raising concerns over possible terrorist use of biological agents in attacks against the homeland. As a result of the anthrax scare, Americans’ perceptions of terrorism came to include an existential fear of biological terrorism.

  • EscapesDeveloping concepts for escape respirator

    DHS S&T announced the Escape Respirator Challenge, a $250,000 prize competition that seeks new concepts for an escape respirator solution. This challenge invites the innovation community to submit relevant, useable, effective, and feasible concepts that protects the user against aerosolized chemical, biological, and radiological (CBR) hazards and provides oxygen.

  • Insect AlliesInsect Allies: Friend or foe?

    In 2016 DARPA launched the Insect Allies project, budgeting $45 million over four years to transform agricultural pests into vectors that can transfer protective genes into plants within one growing season. Scientists are concerned that such technology might be used for nefarious purposes. In a recent Science article, the scientists note the profound implications of releasing a horizontal environmental genetic alteration agent – implications that touch on regulatory, economic, biological, security, and societal issues.

  • Search & rescueArtificial “nose” helps find people buried by earthquakes, avalanches

    Trained rescue dogs are still the best disaster workers – their sensitive noses help them to track down people buried by earthquakes or avalanches. Like all living creatures, however, dogs need to take breaks every now and again. They are also often not immediately available in disaster areas, and dog teams have to travel from further afield.. Scientists have developed the smallest and cheapest ever equipment for detecting people by smell. It could be used in the search for people buried by an earthquake or avalanche.

  • 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.

  • DetectionExpanding real-time radiological threat detection to include other dangers

    Advanced commercially available technologies—such as additive manufacturing (3-D printing), small-scale chemical reactors for pharmaceuticals, and CRISPR gene-manipulation tools—have opened wide access to scientific exploration and discovery. In the hands of terrorists and rogue nation states, however, these capabilities could be misused to concoct chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and high-yield explosive (CBRNE) weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in small quantities and in form factors that are hard to detect. DARPA’s SIGMA+ program aims to create additional sensors and networks to detect biological, chemical, and explosives threats.

  • The Russia connectionU.K. counterterrorism unit takes over probe into Russian ex-spy's illness

    Britain’s counterterrorism police took over the investigation into the sudden and severe illness of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter as media reported that Skripal’s son died last year of unknown causes on a visit to Russia. Scotland Yard announced that its counterterrorism unit would take charge due to the case’s “unusual circumstances” after Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson warned that any involvement of a foreign government in the incident would not go “unpunished.”

  • The Russia connectionName your poison: Exotic toxins fell Kremlin foes

    The sudden illness in Britain of a Russian former spy has drawn comparisons with another poisoning in the United Kingdom – the 2006 assassination by Vladimir Putin’s agents of Russian former-spy-turned-Kremlin-critic Aleksandr Litvinenko. In using various poisons – some of them esoteric — to have his critics and adversaries killed inside Russia and abroad, Putin is continuing a storied KGB tradition. Here is a closer, if brief, look at some of the poisons Russian government agents have used on their lethal missions.

  • Designer pathogensNew framework for guiding controversial research still has worrisome gaps

    In December the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) release lifted the funding moratorium on Gain of Function (GoF) research, following the controversial projects involving H5N1 in 2011. The “Framework for guiding funding decisions about proposed research involving enhanced potential pandemic pathogens” is similar to the January 2017 “P3C0 Framework,” and it came with the bonus of restoring funding for such research – but there are still considerable concerns with how GoF research is evaluated and if these frameworks have really addressed the gaps.

  • BiodefenseNew Congressional Biodefense Caucus launched

    A new Congressional Biodefense Caucus was launched last Monday. The caucus said it already has a bipartisan membership roll which includes twenty-seven Members of Congress. The caucus is “dedicated to strengthening our nation’s biodefense enterprise and national security.”

  • BiosurveillanceDistinguishing harmless bacteria from pathogens

    Bacteria underpins much of our world, acting behind the scenes to affect the health and behavior of animals and plants. They help produce food, provide oxygen, and even reshape the environment through a vast array of biological processes. They come in a phenomenal number of strains—many still unknown—and thrive in different ecological and environmental niches all over the world. But while their diverse behaviors make them essential to life, bacteria can also be deadly. This threat only grows as greater global travel brings people into contact with new places, foods, and animals, dramatically increasing the chances of exposure to dangerous microbial species known as pathogens.

  • Public healthComparing pollution levels before and after Hurricane Harvey

    Hurricane Harvey, which made landfall in late August 2017, brought more than 64 inches of rain to the Houston area, flooding 200,000 homes, 13 Superfund sites, and more than 800 wastewater treatment facilities. As disasters become more frequent and populations living in vulnerable areas increase, interest in the health effects of exposure to the combination of natural and technological disasters has grown. A new study examined concentrations of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) before and after Hurricane Harvey in the Houston neighborhood of Manchester. Manchester, which is located near refineries and other industrial sites along the Houston Ship Channel, is a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood where residents face disproportionate health risks due to pollution and other environmental hazards.

  • BiosecurityU.S. ends 3-year ban on research involving enhanced-lethality viruses

    The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) yesterday announced it was ending its three-year moratorium on funding of gain-of-function research, that is, research which aims to make extremely dangerous viruses even more dangerous in order to find a vaccine or cure for them. The U.S. government instituted the ban in 2014, against the backdrop of rising worries that these “gain-of-function” studies would allow scientists to increase the ability of the infectious disease to spread by enhancing its pathogenicity, or its ability to cause disease. Scientists who supported continuing research involving enhancing the transmissibility of infectious disease were not helped by a series of safety mishaps at federal research facilities.

  • BiosecurityBiosecurity conference fosters international, multidisciplinary collaboration

    Biosecurity prevents unauthorized access, loss and intentional release of biological pathogens, information and equipment that may cause harm. Biosecurity professionals from across the United States and Mexico gathered on Arizona State University’s Tempe campus 7-8 December, the first time a biosecurity conference of this scope had taken place in Arizona and one of the largest ever to be held in the United States. Leaders in the field shared multidisciplinary approaches and perspectives on biosecurity.