• BiothreatsCongress passes legislation authorizing critical biodefense programs

    Last week the House passed the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness and Advancing Innovation Act. The bill reauthorizes existing statute governing public health efforts at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

  • BiothreatsBiodefense Manhattan Project

    The Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense will hold a day-long meeting to discuss a national, public-private research and development initiative to defend the United States against biological threats. The discussants will be “representatives from the same sorts of organizations that contributed to the original Manhattan Project,” the Blue Ribbon Panel says.

  • PerspectiveThe author of “World War Z” is worried about germ warfare

    What if Zika had been cooked up in a lab? Max Brooks, the author of World War Z, writes in Slate that in 2016, he asked that question in an op-ed for the New York Daily News. At the time, Zika was spreading across the country, and Congress seemed to be treating it like the common cold. But what about the next time? What if the next attack comes not from bacteria like anthrax but from a virus like the 1918 influenza? What if someone digs up a frozen, infected corpse or, like Amerithrax, smuggles the disease out of a lab? If we were caught by surprise by a natural outbreak like Zika—which is waning now but was devastating for those affected—how could we even hope to survive an artificial plague?

  • 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.

  • BiothreatsBiotechnology advances offer opportunities for actors with malicious intent

    Over the past decade, the biotechnology economy has experienced remarkable growth, resulting in the rapid expansion of biological knowledge and application. These advances create openings for actors with malicious intent to harness readily available tools and techniques to create biological threats or bioweapons.

  • BiothreatsDo we need a moratorium on germline gene editing?

    In the wake of the news from China about He Jiankui’s gene-edited babies, many scientists are calling for a moratorium on germline gene-editing. Nature considered the topic sufficiently important to publish the call by several top researchers and ethicists for a moratorium.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Homegrown terrorismU.S. Coast Guard officer to be charged with mass terrorism plot

    Christopher Paul Hasson, a U.S. Coast Guard officer will appear in court today (Thursday), charged with plotting a massive, 2-prong attack modeled after the 2011 Anders Behring Breivik’s terrorist attack in Norway. Breivik killed eight people in Oslo as a diversion, before killing 69 teenagers in a summer camp organized by the Norwegian Social Democratic Party. Hasson compiled a hit list of liberal politicians, Supreme Court judges, and journalists – but his violent plans extended to trying to “establish a white homeland,” and using biological weapons to “kill almost every last person on Earth.”

  • BiothreatsGain-of-function (GoF) research set to resume, and unease grows

    Gain-of-function (GoF) research involving H5N1 is set to resume – but without review comments, as the review panel has kept mum. Many scientists are worried, arguing that certain studies that aim to make pathogens more potent or more likely to spread in mammals are so risky they should be limited or even banned.

  • BiothreatsAntimicrobial resistance: A neglected biodefense vulnerability

    We typically think that biodefense is about defending against bioterrorism or the next pandemic – or, in extreme cases, about some laboratory accident. Biodefense is mostly about all these things, but also about much more. Antimicrobial resistance is not a headline-grabbing topic and it certainly is not getting its own apocalyptic outbreak movie anytime soon, but the microbial threat has been growing since antibiotics were first discovered.

  • 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.

  • BiowarfareInsects as potential weapons in biological warfare

    Owing to present-day armed conflicts, the general public is well aware of the terrifying effects of chemical weapons. Meanwhile, the effects of biological weapons have largely disappeared from public awareness. A project funded by a research agency of the U.S. Department of Defense is now giving rise to concerns about being possibly misused for the purpose of biological warfare.

  • 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.

  • BiodefenseWhite Houses unveils new National Biodefense Strategy

    The Trump administration on Tuesday released a new National Biodefense Strategy, along with an order from President Donald Trump that directs the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to take the coordinating lead and establishes a cabinet-level biodefense steering committee. Some experts are praising the broad scope of the strategy, new elements that it covers, and the high-level attention and oversight built into the plan.