• Advancing microbial forensics to respond to global biological outbreaks

    Much as human DNA can be used as evidence in criminal trials, genetic information about microorganisms can be analyzed to identify pathogens or other biological agents in the event of a suspicious disease outbreak. Biological outbreaks can include natural occurrences, accidental, or negligent releases from laboratories, biocrimes aimed at individuals or small groups, or acts of bioterrorism and biowarfare intended to affect large populations. The tools and methods used to investigate such outbreaks belong to an emerging discipline known as microbial forensics, but the field faces substantial scientific and technical challenges, says a new report.

  • Scientists divided on whether to destroy last stocks of smallpox virus

    While smallpox has been eradicated since 1980, the World Health Organization (WHO) still maintains a stockpile of the virus — a measure which is becoming an increasingly contentious issue for members of the 194-nation organization. Some scientists argue that the stockpiles of the virus should be maintained until there is a completely confirmed response to any possible future smallpox outbreak, while other scientists argue that the danger of an accidental outbreak or terrorist bioattack using the virus far outweighed any advances to be made by additional live testing.

  • Scientists: immediate action required to address superbugs’ threat

    Scientists warn that drug-resistant superbugs demand an immediate, serious response and that the steps required to plan for these pathogens were not properly taken in previous decades. “[A] world without effective antibiotics would be ‘deadly,’ with routine surgery, treatments for cancer and diabetes and organ transplants becoming impossible,” says one scientist. The scientists warn that if action is not taken immediately, the massive health gains made since Alexander Fleming’s discovery of penicillin in 1928 will be lost forever.

  • Canada donates Biosafety Level 3 modular laboratory to Caribbean health authorities

    The Biological Security program of Canada’s Global Partnership Program(GPP) has officially transferred a new biological containment laboratory to the Caribbean Public Health Agency(CARPHA). The Biosafety Level 3 (BSL-3) modular laboratory facility, a first in the Caribbean and located in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, improves diagnostic capabilities for human and veterinary pathogens with high epidemic potential.

  • Leidos awarded DHS Plum Island biolab contract

    DHS awarded Reston, Virginia-based Leidos a prime contract to support and supplement the Science and Technology (S&T) Agricultural Scientific Program at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center (PIADC). The single-award time and materials (T&M) contract has a one-year base period of performance, four one-year options, and a total contract value of approximately $12 million if all options are exercised. Work will be performed in Orient Point, New York.

  • Scientists urge U.S. to do more to detect, prevent use of bioweapons

    Carefully targeted biological weapons could be as dangerous as nuclear weapons, so the United States should invest more resources in developing technologies to detect them, scientists say. What is especially worrisome is that “The advent of modern molecular genetic technologies is making it increasingly feasible to engineer bioweapons,” says one expert. “It’s making people with even moderate skills able to create threats they couldn’t before.” There is another worry: “A high-tech bioweapon could cost only $1 million to build,” the expert adds. “That’s thousands of times cheaper than going nuclear. Iran’s centrifuges alone cost them billions.”

  • Validating air sampling techniques to fight bioterrorism

    Air and surface sampling techniques currently used by the U.S. government are effective in fighting bioterrorism and potentially saving lives, a new study says. Air sampling has been readily accepted for similar uses such as measuring for particulate matter, but using it to detect bacteria in biological terrorism was a new concept instituted after the 9/11 attacks. This type of sampling is now part of a sophisticated system used by the DHS and the Department of Defense. In order for the system to work more efficiently, however, experts say that the detection cycle, which currently takes between 12-36 hours, would need to produce results in a shorter time frame.

  • Battelle shows smart technology for biodefense and hazard avoidance

    Battelle last week announced production of the next generation chemical and biological hazard sensor system, which the company says operates at a fraction of the cost of current technologies. The technology, known as the Resource Effective BioIdentification System (REBS), is a battery-powered system capable of autonomous use with operating costs of less than $1 per day per unit (the company notes that current system costs that can range from $500 - $3,000 per day) and assay costs of $0.04 per sample (compared to current systems at over $100 per sample).

  • New biodefense centers offer modernized approach, face criticism

    A new facility at Texas A&M University is one of three new biodefense centers created by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to revolutionize the way fatal viruses are countered in the event of an emergency. The $286-million lab features mobile clean rooms that can be detached and moved to form different production or testing systems as the need arises. Not everyone agrees that the design and capabilities of the new center would offer the best response to biothreats.

  • Debate intensifies over whether or not to destroy last stockpile of smallpox

    The world’s health ministers are scheduled to meet later this month to discuss the fate of the last known stockpiles of smallpox, held under tight security in two labs— one in the United States and the other in Russia. Smallpox has been eradicated for more than three decades, but some U.S. health officials say the remaining stockpiles should be kept for further studies. The smallpox virus is being used to develop drugs and safer vaccines in case the virus returns through terrorism or a lab accident. Member nations of the World Health Organization (WHO) once agreed that the last virus strains known to officials would eventually be destroyed, but a set date was never agreed upon.

  • DHS cancels acquisition of BioWatch’s Generation 3 technology

    Owing to concerns about BioWatcheffectiveness and high cost, DHS has canceled plans to install an automated technology meant to speed the 24-hour operations of the program, the nation’s system for detecting a biological attack.ASeptember 2012 GAO report estimated that annual costs to operate the Generation 3 technology would be “about four times more” than the existing BioWatch system.

  • Amid controversy, Boston City council debates banning Level 4 Biolab

    Boston has long been seen as “America’s Medical Capital,” but that may soon change if the city passes a measure to ban Level 4 Biolab disease research at Boston University’s National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratory – research which includes deadly and untreatable strains that could decimate an exposed urban population in the event of an accident or terrorist activity.

  • Pocket-sized anthrax detector aids global agriculture

    Bacillus anthracis, the bacteria that causes anthrax, is commonly found in soils all over the world and can cause serious, and often fatal, illness in both humans and animals. The bacteria can survive in harsh conditions for decades. In humans, exposure to B. anthracis may occur through skin contact, inhalation of spores or eating contaminated meat. A credit-card-sized anthrax detection cartridge developed at Sandia National Laboratories and recently licensed to a small business makes testing safer, easier, faster, and cheaper.

  • Identifying the most likely non-state chem-bio threats

    New research finds that Jihadists pose the most likely chem-bio threat, but other actors also featured as top threats. Jihadist actors occupied seven of the top 10 spots in a qualitative analysis; nine of the top 10 in a quantitative analysis; and half of the top 10 in an elicitation analysis.

  • 2014 edition of updated first responder biodetection technology guide available

    A 2014 update to a detailed product guide listing biodetection technologies and sampling products is now available. The updated digest, Biodetection Technologies for First Responders: 2014, provides a comprehensive compilation of commercially available detection devices and products published to help first responders when purchasing equipment and supplies needed to rapidly assess biological threats.