• T cells offer new promise for vaccines for plague and bacterial pneumonias

    There is currently no licensed plague vaccine in the United States, which is too bad because Yersinia pestis is arguably the most deadly bacteria known to man; most of the plague vaccine candidates that have been studied aim to stimulate B cells to produce plague-fighting antibodies, but animal studies suggest that antibodies may not be enough to protect humans from pneumonic plague; new studies show that T cells can also fight plague — and may be better candidates with which to develop a plague vaccine

  • Malaysia releases GM mosquitoes in landmark trial

    Dengue infection leads to a sudden onset of fever with severe headaches, muscle and joint pains, and rashes, which can lead to death if left untreated; the infection killed at least 134 people last year in Malaysia alone; Malasia’s health authorities have released 6,000 genetically modified mosquitoes designed to combat dengue fever, in a landmark trial slammed last week by environmentalists who say the experiment is unsafe

  • Gerald Epstein: No military angle to debate over small pox sample retention

    There is an honest debate among scientists whether to destroy or retain the world’s last remaining smallpox sample; one argument that is not being made is these samples should be retained for possible use as a weapon; the assertion that some of U.S. scientists or government officials who argue for retaining the samples, do so because of the potential use of smallpox as a bioweapon, has no basis in fact; moreover, the indiscriminate spread of small pox makes it unsuitable as a weapon, since its effects could not be limited to the military forces or even the population of an attacking state

  • Smallpox remains a large threat and issue of contention

    Smallpox has been estimated to have taken the lives of an estimated 300-500 million people during the twentieth century; the last two known remaining locations of the virus which triggers the disease are the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia, and the State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology (VECTOR) near Novosibirsk in Russia; there is an intense debate among scientists about whether these last remaining samples should be destroyed; proponents of destruction say the remaining cultures may one day be used as bioweapons, while opponents of destruction say that destroying the cultures would not make any difference because terrorists could develop synthetic smallpox virus to use as weapon

  • Dr. Kavita Berger, biosecurity expert

    Project BioShield, launched in 2004 with a $5 billion funding from Congress, aims to encourage the development of vaccines against bioterror agents; the project has divided the scientific community with regard to the direction of R&D effort funded by the project; some scientists in the field argue that the development and stock-piling of vaccines for known diseases, such as polio, plague, botulism, and anthrax, is a waste of funding — funding which could, and should, be used to develop a universal vaccine which would counteract not only known bioterror agents, but yet-unknown agents, also called “designer pathogens”

  • Mosquito-repelling light barriers will reduce spread of malaria

    Malaria accounts for 20 percent of all childhood deaths in Africa; a Columbia University experimental physicist is developing a “light shield” consisting of light barriers that can repel mosquitoes by throwing off the insects’ ability to navigate and detect humans via light and heat

  • U.S. will carefully watch, but not regulate, synthetic biology

    White House commission says biologists can engineer custom organisms from synthetic genomes, with the government watching but not regulating the research; critics claim synthetic biology will create unnatural organisms likely to wreak havoc on the larger ecosystem if they got loose in the wild — to say nothing of the risks of bioterrorists using design pathogens; self-regulation, say the critics, is equivalent to no regulation

  • Hope for Plum Island in unease about Kansas biolab?

    Last month the National Research Council issued a safety report which concluded that there is a 70 percent chance of pathogen release from the proposed Manhattan, Kansas BioLab-4 over a 50-year period; The New York congressional delegation points out that upgrading safety at Plum island will cost far less than the $400 million price tag for the Kansas lab

  • Report: DHS underestimates risks of accidental pathogen release at Kansas BioLab

    Manhattan, Kansas, is the proposed location of a new, $450 million BioLab44 DHS research facility; a National Academy of Sciences panel report says that a risk assessment by DHS of the new facility vastly underestimates the risk of an accidental pathogen release from the lab and the associated costs; the NAS report also said last month’s analysis failed to learn from fifteen major accidental releases of the foot and mouth virus around the world

  • Safety of planned Kansas Biosafety-Level 4 lab questioned

    A new National Research Council report finds “several major shortcomings” in a DHS assessment of risks associated with operating the proposed National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) in Manhattan, Kansas; one example: the report says there is nearly a 70 percent chance over the 50-year lifetime of the facility that a release of foot-and-mouth disease could result in an infection outside the laboratory, impacting the economy by estimates of $9 billion to $50 billion; roughly 9.5 percent of the U.S. cattle inventory lies within a 200-mile radius of the facility; another concern of the committee was the lack of an early-release detection and response system, clinical isolation facilities, and world-class infectious disease clinicians experienced in diagnosing and treating laboratory staff or communities exposed to dangerous pathogens that affect people

  • Synthetic DNA makers alerted to bioterrorism threats

    Scientists have been engineering genetic sequences for decades and commercial gene sequencing has been around for years — but this year, researchers for the first time were able to design and produce cells that do not exist in nature without using pre-existing biological matter — marking the latest evolution in the rapidly advancing field of synthetic biology; the developments could pave the way for advancements in medicine, energy, and agriculture, but also could put sensitive materials in the wrong hands; it will soon be possible to recreate bacterial pathogens like smallpox — and even enhance these pathogens, making them more potent

  • BioWatch system faces technical, operational challenges

    In 2003 U.S. authorities set up a network of air samplers in major cities designed quickly to detect biological agents released in a terrorist attacks; new report says that the system, known as BioWatch, faces “serious technical and operational challenges”

  • DoD awards contract for pathogen detection

    IntegenX wins a $15 million contract to develop a pathogen detection and identification platform; the company will use a technology developed under a previous DoD contract to purify DNA from pathogen targets contained in complex matrices and present the purified material to an IntegenX library construction module

  • Vaccine work offers protection against weaponized plague bacteria

    Plague has been used as a weapon since the Middle Ages, when armies would hurl plague-infested bodies over castle walls; more recently, the United States, Japan, and the former Soviet Union have all studied the use of Y. pestis as a biological warfare agent; new research on the immune system’s response to plague could improve efforts to vaccinate the public against the world’s oldest form of biological warfare

  • New $186.6 million contract shows anthrax threat real

    In an indication that the threat of an anthrax outbreak as a result of bioterrorism remains a major priority for the Obama administration, Maryland-based Emergent BioSolutions received a contract valued at up to $186.6 million from the Department of Health and Human Services to develop a recombinant protective antigen anthrax vaccine, which is likely to produce a more rapid response to anthrax infection than existing vaccines