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Biotech Science

U.S. Continues Biological Warfare Research 945

merryprankster writes "Researchers at Saint Louis University have engineered a strain of mouse-pox virus which kills 100% of animals it infects - even when the mice have been treated with vaccination and anti-virals. The deadliness of the virus is related to the addition of a protein IL-4 which shuts down cell-mediated immune response. The engineered virus is not contagious and does not affect humans but the research has drawn some condemnation as being dangerous and unnecessary."
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U.S. Continues Biological Warfare Research

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  • Article (Score:1, Informative)

    by Coulter, Ann ( 720298 ) on Thursday October 30, 2003 @11:06AM (#7347231) Journal
    I hear that all these liberals on here might actually attack this web server by reloading the article multiple times, so I decided to copy it.

    US develops lethal new viruses

    19:00 29 October 03

    Exclusive from New Scientist Print Edition. Subscribe and get 4 free issues.

    A scientist funded by the US government has deliberately created an extremely deadly form of mousepox, a relative of the smallpox virus, through genetic engineering.

    The new virus kills all mice even if they have been given antiviral drugs as well as a vaccine that would normally protect them.

    The work has not stopped there. The cowpox virus, which infects a range of animals including humans, has been genetically altered in a similar way.

    The new virus, which is about to be tested on animals, should be lethal only to mice, Mark Buller of the University of St Louis told New Scientist. He says his work is necessary to explore what bioterrorists might do.

    But the research brings closer the prospect of pox viruses that cause only mild infections in humans being turned into diseases lethal even to people who have been vaccinated.

    And vaccines are currently our main defence against smallpox and its relatives, such as the monkeypox that reached the US this year. Some researchers think the latest research is risky and unnecessary.

    "I have great concern about doing this in a pox virus that can cross species," said Ian Ramshaw of the Australian National University in Canberra on being told of Buller's work.

    Ramshaw was a member of the team that accidentally discovered how to make mousepox more deadly (New Scientist, 13 January 2001). But the modified mousepox his team created was not as deadly as Buller's.

    No rebound

    Since then, Ramshaw told New Scientist, his team has also created more deadly forms of mousepox, and has used the same method to engineer a more deadly rabbitpox virus.

    But this research revealed that the modified pox viruses are not contagious, he says. That is good news in the sense that these viruses could not cause ecological havoc by wiping out mouse or rabbit populations around the world if they escaped from a lab.

    However, this discovery also means some bioterrorists might be more tempted to use the same trick to modify a pox virus that infects humans. Such a disease, like anthrax, would infect only those directly exposed to it. It would not spread around the world and rebound on the attackers. But there is no guarantee that other pox viruses modified in a similar way would also be non-contagious.

    Ramshaw's team made its initial discovery while developing contraceptive vaccines for sterilising mice and rabbits without killing them. The researchers modified the mousepox virus by adding a gene for a natural immunosuppressant called IL-4, expecting this would boost antibody production.

    Instead, the modified mousepox virus was far more lethal, killing 60 per cent of vaccinated mice. The addition of IL-4 seems to switch off a key part of the immune system called the cell-mediated response.

    Maximised production

    Now Buller has engineered a mousepox strain that kills 100 per cent of vaccinated mice, even when they were also treated with the antiviral drug cidofovir. A monoclonal antibody that mops up IL-4 did save some, however.

    His team "optimised" the virus by placing the IL-4 gene in a different part of the viral genome and adding a promoter sequence to maximise production of the IL-4 protein, he told a biosecurity conference in Geneva last week.

    Buller has also constructed a cowpox virus containing the mouse IL-4 gene, which is about to be tested on mice at the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Maryland.

    Cowpox infects people, but Buller says the IL-4 protein is species-specific and would not affect the human immune system. The experiments are being done at the second-highest level of biological containment.

  • Level 3 Lab (Score:2, Informative)

    by Necromancyr ( 602950 ) on Thursday October 30, 2003 @11:11AM (#7347298)
    Just to be clear on another point, the lab is Bio-Level 3 - NOT level 4. If this thing could infect humans and cause some kind of serious catastrophe it would be in a Bio-Level 4 lab (there are only a handful, and no one of them is NOT at this university. There are a TON of regulations and checks you need to go through and keep up with to even get to Level 3 (nothing goes in/out of your lab without being autoclaved for one. There's an autoclave in your lab WALL to the outside!).

    Please get educated before you make ignorant news posts - particularly on the front page.

  • by Davak ( 526912 ) on Thursday October 30, 2003 @11:13AM (#7347320) Homepage
    Read some of the research for yourself: Retrieve&db=PubMed&list_uids=11152493&dopt=Abstrac t []

    Don't accept the media's spin on things!
  • Re:Hyprocrisy. (Score:2, Informative)

    by PainKilleR-CE ( 597083 ) on Thursday October 30, 2003 @11:30AM (#7347552)
    WMDs in the US, anybody?

    There are WMDs in many countries, especially the larger 1st-world nations. There are also regulations on most types of weapons and weapons technologies.

    The reason that WMDs are a problem in Iraq, for instance, is because the country was under UN sanctions (because Iraq invaded Kuwait) that required removal of these weapons within a very specific timeframe, with requirements for tracking the removal and destruction of the weapons. While the UN seemed happy to extend these deadlines and to maintain very little tracking of the weapons themselves, the US decided to enforce the provision to enforce it with military force.

    So, while the UN sat back while weapons were tested on Iraq's own citizens and stockpiles disappeared with no record of where they were sent (or of their destruction), the US decided to do something about it.
  • by Jeremy Erwin ( 2054 ) on Thursday October 30, 2003 @11:38AM (#7347644) Journal
    The full text of the 2001 paper

    Jackson, R. J., A. J. Ramsay, C. D. Christensen, S. Beaton, D. F. Hall, and I. A. Ramshaw. 2001. Expression of mouse interleukin-4 by a recombinant ectromelia virus suppresses cytolytic lymphocyte responses and overcomes genetic resistance to mousepox. J. Virol. 75:1205-1210

    is available for your enjoyment [].
  • Re:Seriously... (Score:5, Informative)

    by hype7 ( 239530 ) <> on Thursday October 30, 2003 @11:45AM (#7347720) Journal
    Are you sure you would want a man-made virus that is capable of wiping out an entire species introduced into your country?

    They already exist, but rarely are they capable of killing entire species. They're either too efficient (kill too fast), not efficient enough (one area dies out, and by the time it's moved on uninfected animals move back into the old area), or the animals develop a resistance to it.

    See: myxomatosis [], calicivirus [].

    -- james
  • Re:We need this (Score:5, Informative)

    by Lane.exe ( 672783 ) on Thursday October 30, 2003 @11:49AM (#7347756) Homepage
    What nation still hasn't signed the Biological Weapons Convention treaty, despite being the ONLY industrial nation not to do so? THE US!

    Yup. We develop the weapons and refuse to stop because of the pharmaceutical industry and the KILLING they make off of germ warfare (and its side products, vaccines and medicine). Welcome to America.

  • Demon in the Freezer (Score:3, Informative)

    by runlvl0 ( 198575 ) on Thursday October 30, 2003 @11:55AM (#7347840) Homepage Journal
    Actually, this has been around for some time. The original Austrailian Jackson-Ramshaw IL-4 mousepox experiment was conducted in 2000, and published in the Journal of Virology in February 2001.

    For a more comprehensive discusson of the IL-4 inclusion, and of the threat of Smallpox in general, The Demon in the Freezer [] by Richard Preston (the same guy who wrote The Hot Zone, and, yeah - gimme my Amazon $.50...) talks about the history of smallpox, it's spread and eventual U.N. "eradication" (essentially trusting governments like North Korea, Libya and Saddam Hussein's Iraq to voluntarily destroy their stocks - and explicitly trusting the Former Soviet Union Bioreperat and United States CDC to keep the Djin in the bottle) and the effect of adding the mouse gene. Essentially, it renders all of our existing smallpox vacines - themselves based on a 200 year old recipe - impotent.

    "A vaccine resistant smallpox would be everyone's worst nightmare come true," Preston writes about midway through the work. "We could be left trying to fight a genetically engineered virus with a vaccine that had been invented in 1796."

    According to merryprankster, "the research has drawn some condemnation as being dangerous and unnecessary" - actually, in September of 2000, objections were raised to publication of the Jackson-Ramshaw IL-4 mousepox experiment at all on the grounds that it is a blueprint for the biological equivalent of a nuclear bomb--a recipe for a possibly vaccine-proof engineered smallpox.

    But don't panic.
  • Re:Seriously... (Score:5, Informative)

    by MosesJones ( 55544 ) on Thursday October 30, 2003 @12:56PM (#7348573) Homepage

    Umm you are kidding that the US has a strong human rights record ? And has not done anything bad on an international scale recently.

    Camp X-Ray ?
    Chile ?
    Iran-Contra ?
    Cuba, Bay of Pigs?
    Panama ?
    Saddam Hussein ?
    Grenada ?

    Shall I go on ? To say that the US has not commited acts that would result in the condemnation and sanction if commited by a smaller nation is to ignore recent history.

    Saddam Hussein was first recruited by the US Goverment to assassinate the democratically elected head of Iraq. The US did deals with Iran to supply arms to terrorists in central america. The US funded a drug running leader of panama until he refused to listen... then invaded the country. In Chile the US backed a coup that overthrew a democratically elected goverment and replaced it with a facist dictator who murdered thousands of his own people.

    This is NOT a good record.

    And as for why India or Pakistan aren't being invaded... very simple and NOTHING to do with what they do in places like Kashmir, or the funding of terrorism by the Pakistan goverment.

    The US doesn't want a war in India because there are far too many people in India, and India has a well equipped army who would inflict massive casulties. This is the same reason China is never going to be a target.

    The reason the US gets to act this way is the same reason the UK acted this way in the 19Century...

    Who the hell was going to stop them ?
  • by monkeydo ( 173558 ) on Thursday October 30, 2003 @01:39PM (#7349164) Homepage
    Talk about out of context quoting. The sentence you quoted is from a section of the paper discussing predictions about the future of warfare, not the desires of PNAC. That sentence comes from a paragraph which in particular references the THREATS the US may face in the future.

    Let's have a little more context, shall we?

    Space itself will become a theater of war, as nations gain access to space capabilities and come to rely on them; further, the distinction between military and commercial space systems - combatants and noncombatants - will become blurred. Information systems will become an important focus of attack, particularly for U.S. enemies seeking to short-circuit sophisticated American forces. And advanced forms of biological warfare that can "target" specific genotypes may transform biological warfare from the realm of terror to a politically useful tool.

    This is merely a glimpse of the possibilities inherent in the process of transformation, not a precise prediction. Whatever the shape and direction of this revolution in military affairs, the implications for continued American military preeminence will be profound.[emphasis added]

    I would suggest that anyone who seeks to draw a conclusion from this actually read the paper [] for themselves.
  • Re:Seriously... (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 30, 2003 @02:36PM (#7349910)
    The justifications aren't relevant. The fact remains that the United States remains the only nation on this planet that has used nuclear weapons on civilians. It wasn't the communists, it wasn't China, it wasn't Saddam Hussein or Iran, but it was the United States. Whether you think it was for good or not, that is a FACT.
  • Already Covered (Score:2, Informative)

    by kb0pin ( 599482 ) on Thursday October 30, 2003 @02:48PM (#7350036) Homepage
    For anyone who has read Richard Preston's "The Demon in the Freezer," this is not new. In fact, researchers in Australia did the same thing about a year or two ago. It sounds like the people in Saint Louis are just echoing the experiment. In the book, they do make the comment, however, that if the vaccination is very recent, as in a week or so, the IL-4 gene superpox does not seem to have as much of an effect.
  • Not much (Score:3, Informative)

    by roystgnr ( 4015 ) <<roystgnr> <at> <>> on Thursday October 30, 2003 @05:15PM (#7351762) Homepage
    What is the difference?

    The ABM Treaty specified that unilateral withdrawal required 6 months advance notice (which the USA gave, but only after threatening to withdraw for decades); the Non-Proliferation Treaty required only 3 months (which North Korea gave, but only after they'd been repeatedly violating the treaty for years).
  • Re:Seriously... (Score:2, Informative)

    by StormShadw ( 686387 ) <> on Thursday October 30, 2003 @06:02PM (#7352333)
    This is actually nothing new. A research team from Australia discovered the IL-4 gene and its relation to pox a few years ago and published their results at a bio conference!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 30, 2003 @06:30PM (#7352628)
    Very, very debatable.

    At the most basic, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon are listed as separate entities (which is fair enough - they're different people after all) but they were consecutive US presidents following the same policy.

    Add their numbers together and the US jumps to ninth or so on a /very/ arbitrary scale. Just because you change Presidents every 4 years doesn't entitle you to breaks.

    So, take Stalins numbers/years in power:

    ~13,000,000/~30 == ~433,333/year

    Now Johnson and Nixon (and Kennedy?)

    ~1,100,000/8 == 137,500/year

    And we have the fascinating result that the US in a bad mood kills enemy civilians at about a third of the rate of Stalin. This is not so good.
  • Misleading headline (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 30, 2003 @07:25PM (#7353105)
    Your headline is misleading. The US is not doing research into creating biological weapons for military use. (I can already see it now: some third world country will create a huge biological weapons program and claim that "the US is doing biological warfare research, why can't we?" And people will nod their heads in agreement even though they are two completely different situations.)
  • Re:Seriously... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Michael Hunt ( 585391 ) on Thursday October 30, 2003 @08:49PM (#7353899) Homepage
    The Cane Toad was introduced to eat the Cane Beetle, which was causing sugar farmers great degrees of grief.

    For some bizarre reason, the toad wasn't even vaguely interested in eating the grub, but did prove successful at agressively outcompeting fucktons of native species, many of which have since become extinct.

    Now, the toad is apparently making inroads on kakadu.

    It would be funny, however, if we introduced a virus to kill all the toads and the virus killed something else again, like people.

    Then the toads would win.
  • by cyril3 ( 522783 ) on Thursday October 30, 2003 @09:43PM (#7354253)
    the vultures and the like that would eat the dead toads.

    I think I can safely say that absolutely nothing in Australia eats dead cane toads. Or if they do they only do it once.

    By the way I thought an Australian University team had done similar work on a mouse virus a couple of years ago..Anyone know of that research.

  • Re:Seriously... (Score:3, Informative)

    by mikerich ( 120257 ) on Friday October 31, 2003 @10:35AM (#7357587)
    Humans can catch influenza from a range of species including pigs, chickens, ducks and ferrets. The virus can be asymptomatic in some species but devastating when it crosses to another. I'm not sure if chimps can catch 'flu, but gorillas can.

    'Flu is ancient and we *think* the Greeks may have suffered from it (we obviously can't tell for sure), but there is no way of knowing what strain they suffered from.

    Pay attention here comes the science bit. 'Flu is divided into 3 types, A, B and C. C need not concern us as it is not very important. Type A 'flu is the most dangerous and is sub-classified.

    The surface of the flu virus is covered with proteins, the two most important are hemagglutinin and neuraminidase. Hemagglutinin comes in three forms (H1, H2 and H3), neuraminidase (N1 and N2) and 'flu viruses are classified by the combination of H and N, (so the 1918 virus is classified as H1N1, 1957 (Asian 'Flu) H2N2 and so on).

    The 'flu virus is subject to mutation (viruses tend to have high mutation rates), the genes get shuffled around and the arrangement of proteins on the surface continues to alter. So a H1N1 virus will continue to change through time (but remain in the same classification) - this is called 'antigenic drift'. As the virus mutates, it will cause new outbreaks of 'flu, but these tend to be limited in scope. (But the change means that the 'flu vaccine must change each year to combat the new varieties).

    The more dangerous process is 'antigenic shift' when the virus undergoes a massive mutation. This is rarer but the cause of most pandemics. It happens irregularly and is impossible to predict. The reason is very interesting, 'flu circulates in the wild in a variety of species including pigs, whales, ferrets, ducks and pigeons. It is known that all forms of 'flu can live inside birds without expressing symptoms - birds are called the reservoir for the virus.

    Any creature that is simultaneously carrying two or more varieties of the virus (although it may not show any symptoms) can permit 'resortment' of the viruses. Essentially the two viruses start swapping H and N arrangements and coming up with new varieties of 'flu. A new variation immediately renders immunisation impotent.

    Naturally, new viruses require new vaccines - which is why doctors offer 'flu shots each winter. The give you a cocktail of vaccines against the virus they expect to be most prevalent in the coming winter. There is a world-wide system of alerting health authorities to new forms of 'flu - allowing labs to culture the virus and prepare a vaccine before the virus can go on the rampage. Unfortunately the system is particularly weak in China where a lot of 'flu forms originate.

    Why? Well current thinking is that traditionally Chinese peasants have kept pigs close to the house (pigs can harbour the virus) and keep ducks (who also hold the virus) for food. The pigs come into contact with duck droppings and pick up the virus. The virus mutates in the pig and then the virus travels through to humans. Human waste is used to fertilise fields - where the ducks live and they pick up viruses there. Not to mention exotic 'flu variants brought in by other birds nesting and feeding in the fields.

    Hence the huge scare in Hong Kong in 1997 when it was found that chickens were carrying a new 'flu variant. People who had been in contact with chickens were found to have picked up the virus, some died. There has also been a recent outbreak of 'flu in Hong Kong and China - again linked to chickens.

    The drugs that claim to work against 'flu are so-called neuraminidase inhibitors (the most popular is sold as Relenza in the UK). These work by binding on to the neuraminidase molecule and prevent it from latching on to human cells, which means it can't replicate. They have mixed effects, but do seem to limit the spread of the illness and reduce the duration of the illness. The downside is that they need to be taken BEFORE the 'flu starts to replicate - at a time when there are no symptoms. The

I've got a bad feeling about this.