Bioterrorism

  • BioweaponsU.K. military last fall evaluated possible Ebola use by terrorists

    In October 2014, during the peak of the Ebola epidemic which terrorized citizens in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone, security and terrorism analysts considered the probability of the Islamic State (ISIS) or other terror groups weaponizing Ebola and unleashing the virus in New York, Paris, London, or another major city. Many bioweapon researchers played down Martinez’s claim, saying terrorists looking to use Ebola as a weapon would encounter problems. Still, last fall, a U.K. military research unit was tasked with evaluating whether terrorist organizations could use Ebola to attack Western targets.

  • BioterrorismDNA synthesis creates risk of resurrecting deadly viruses

    Scientists are warning that decades of public research on the sequencing of virus DNA are now posing unforeseen threats, as synthesis technologies advance to the point where individuals without expert knowledge may be able to reconstruct long dormant viruses using readily available maps. Diseases which have been extinct for many years may be resurrected by bioterrorists using mail-order DNA kits, with openly published sequence data as their guide. Among these, smallpox eradicated since 1980, could be reintroduced by using the 1994 gene mapping which was prepared in order better to understand why the disease was so deadly.

  • AnthraxSandia Labs anthrax detector wins national technology transfer award

    Bacillus anthracis, the anthrax bacteria, is found in soils worldwide and can cause serious, often fatal, illness in humans and animals. It can survive in harsh conditions for decades. Humans can be exposed through skin contact, inhalation of spores or eating contaminated meat. Currently, samples for testing must be propagated in a laboratory that uses specialized tools requiring a consistent power supply, something often unavailable in the developing world. Sandia National Laboratories won the Federal Laboratory Consortium’s (FLC) 2015 Award for Excellence in Technology Transfer for a credit-card-size device that can detect bacteria that cause anthrax.

  • BioterrorismU.K. military examined feasibility, impact of terrorists using weaponized Ebola virus

    At the height of the Ebola crisis in West Africa last year, British military experts were asked to investigate the feasibility and likely impact of a an Ebola virus “weaponized” by terrorists. The report was prepared last October, and the U.K. Ministry of Defense on Friday released a heavily redacted version of it. The report identified three potential scenarios of terrorists exploiting the Ebola virus for bioterrorism. Details of the first scenario are completely blacked out, as are most of details of the second scenario, which is described as “logistically and technically challenging for a non-state group to undertake.” The third scenario, the details of which are also mostly redacted, was described as the “most technically challenging.”

  • BiosurveillanceNew biosurveillance Web site offers comprehensive information on outbreaks, responses

    A new online resource is providing a centralized portal for all news, information, resources, and research related to biosurveillance at the laboratory. Los Alamos Lab science team gathers a virtual biological toolkit for international disease outbreak response.

  • BioterrorismGenetic safety switches curb bioterror risk

    The potential threat of bioterrorism using man-made biological organisms could be curbed, thanks to a new method. Synthetic biologists — who can design and modify the DNA of living organisms to give them novel, useful functions — have devised a way of containing their products to help ensure that they work only as intended.

  • Bioterror agentsA combination ricin/anthrax vaccine shows promise

    Soligenix, Inc. last month announced the publication of data demonstrating that the combination of RiVax and VeloThrax induces protective immunity to both ricin toxin and anthrax toxin exposure. RiVax is the company’s candidate vaccine for the prevention of exposure to ricin toxin using an antigen which is completely devoid of the toxic activity of ricin. VeloThrax is the company’s candidate vaccine which employs a derivative of recombinant protective antigen, termed Dominant Negative Inhibitor (DNI), which is a candidate for inclusion in a next generation anthrax vaccine.

  • BiotechnologyFUJIFILM completes acquisition of Kalon Biotherapeutics

    Morrisville, North Carolina-based FUJIFILM Diosynth Biotechnologies U.S.A. Inc. (FDBU), a FUJIFILM Corporation subsidiary, has completed its acquisition of College Station, Texas-based Kalon Biotherapeutics LLC. The two companies say this is another step toward making the Texas biosciences industry into a center for development and manufacturing of biopharmaceuticals and biotechnology. Kalon is a biopharmaceutical contract manufacturing organization (CMO) with advanced technologies and facilities, developing and manufacturing medical countermeasures to protect public health in emergencies, including incidents of bioterrorism or an outbreak of pandemic influenza.

  • EbolaKlain defends CDC protocols after lab technician’s potential exposure to Ebola

    The Obama administration’s Ebola czar, Ron Klain, yesterday (Sunday) defended the security procedures of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), after a technician at one of the agency’s labs in Atlanta was potentially exposed to the deadly disease. The CDC has been criticized earlier this year not only for its response to the Ebola outbreak and Ebola cases within the United States. Numerous safety violations and lax procedures have been reported in the CDC’s labs and in the manner the agency’s technicians transport lethal pathogens, including anthrax and botulism bacteria, from one lab to another.

  • BioterrorismFBI's investigation of 2001 anthrax attacks was flawed: GAO

    In a report released Friday, the Government Accounting Office (GAO) says the FBI relied on flawed scientific methods to investigate the 2001 anthrax attacks which killed five people and sent seventeen others to hospitals. The report raises questions about the FBI’s firm conclusion that it was Army biodefense specialist Bruce Ivins was responsible – or solely responsible – for the attacks.

  • AgroterrorismProtecting the U.S. food supply from agroterrorism

    “For the life of me, I cannot understand why the terrorists have not attacked our food supply because it is so easy to do,” said Tommy Thompson during his 2004 farewell speech when he left his post as U.S. secretary of Health and Human Services. Documents found in a 2002 U.S. military raid on an al-Qaeda warehouse showed that terrorists sought to contaminate the U.S. food supplies. The documents included detailed instructions for attacking U.S. agricultural assets. Researchers at the University of California-Davis’ Western Institute for Food Safety and Security(WIFSS) are studying vulnerabilities of the U.S. agricultural system to the threats of agroterrorism.

  • EbolaUse of Ebola virus as bioterror weapon highly unlikely: Experts

    Francisco Martinez, Spain’s state secretary for security, claimed that ISIS fighters are planning to carry out “lone wolf” attacks using biological weapons. He cites conversations uncovered from secret chat rooms used by would-be militants. Bioterrorism experts say the use of Ebola for bioterrorism is highly unlikely. “Assuming a terrorist organization manages to capture a suitable Ebola host, extract the virus, weaponize the virus, transport the virus to a populated city and deliver the virus, it is entirely likely that the sub-optimal climatic conditions of a Western city will kill it off relatively quickly,” says one expert.

  • BioterrorismRicin vaccine shows promise in pilot study

    Ricin is a highly lethal toxin derived from the seeds of the castor oil plant. A dose of purified ricin powder the size of a few grains of table salt can kill an adult. Due to its toxicity and the ubiquity of source material, it’s considered a leading bioterrorism threat. A recent study at the Tulane National Primate Research Center showed for the first time that an experimental vaccine could completely protect nonhuman primates exposed to deadly ricin toxin, a potential bioterrorism agent.

  • Synthetic biologyMore research needed to address synthetic biology security concerns

    Synthetic biology involves the design of new biological components, devices, or systems that do not exist in nature, or the redesign of existing natural biological systems. Synthetic biology aims to make biological systems work more efficiently or to design biological tools for specific applications — such as developing more effective antibiotics. A new paper examines security risks and policy questions related to the growing field of synthetic biology. While the author does not think the field is ripe for exploitation by terrorists, it does highlight significant gaps in our understanding of the nuts and bolts of lab work in synthetic biology that can contribute to security risks.

  • EbolaConcerns about use of Ebola as a bioweapon exaggerated: Experts

    The stabbing of a federal air marshal with a syringe at the airport in Lagos, Nigeria, three weeks ago has raised concern about the possibility that the Ebola virus could be harvested by terrorists and used as a bioweapon. Security experts say that worries about the Ebola being used as a weapon by terrorists are exaggerated, since it would be very difficult for terrorists to grow large quantities of the virus and then turn the virus into an effective, dispersible weapon to cover a wide area in order to infect and kill a large number of people. Still, experts say the possibility of Ebola as a terror weapons cannot be completely discounted – especially small-scale attacks on individuals, like the attack on the air marshal at Lagos airport. Potentially even more dangerous would be a bioattack by suicide infectors – individuals who deliberately infected themselves for the purpose of carrying the virus out of an epidemic zone in order to infect people in other areas or even other countries.