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Government Security The Military Science

11 Pathogens Pose Big Security Risk For Research 115

sciencehabit writes "A United States federal panel of scientists and security experts has identified 11 microorganisms that it wants designated as Tier 1 select agents, a new category of biological agents that would be subject to higher security standards than other pathogens and toxins used in biomedical research. The category would include anthrax, Ebola, Variola major and Variola minor (the two viruses that cause small pox), the Marburg virus, the virus that causes foot and mouth disease, and bacterial strains that produce the botulinum neurotoxin. At the same time, the panel has recommended dropping 19 pathogens and six toxins from the broader list of 82 agents that are currently governed by the select agent program."
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11 Pathogens Pose Big Security Risk For Research

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  • It'll be amusing to see what happens if these proponents manage to get Botox admitted to the select club along with Ebola and smallpox...

    • They put marijuana in the same drug category as heroin, GHB, MDMA, and LSD (schedule I).
      They put opium, cocaine, ritalin, and morphine into the same category (schedule II).

      The rules are not made by the experts, they are made by Congress.

    • According to TFS: "bacterial strains that produce the botulinum neurotoxin"

      • Which IIRC can be found in common dirt. It only produces the toxin when operating in anaerobic metabolism mode though.
        • Which IIRC can be found in common dirt. It only produces the toxin when operating in anaerobic metabolism mode though.

          So... don't eat dirt in a vacuum?

          • Not quite so. The point is that the Government is putting its big hand ou there again, interfering on a completely normal and not-more-dangerous-than-background activity again. The risk is that a big part of biological research at the US may die because of that.

            And of course, all the fears go away when the article points that it is just an update of the list, and the interference was there all the time. The research was killed long ago.

        • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

          Anthrax can also be found in common dirt.

          Botulinum toxin producing bacteria have the advantage of being very easy to culture - in poorly prepared preserves. Looks like that collection of Mason jars in the cupboard is going to suddenly be regarded as a weapons cache.

      • by chrylis ( 262281 )

        Right. It's in the proposal this panel is floating. I'm interested in the media reaction if this gets put into practice.

    • by KDR_11k ( 778916 )

      To be fair botox is the most toxic substance currently known. The lethal dose is 1 nanogram per kilogram of body weight. Doesn't take much of that stuff to kill millions of people.

  • I don't see the zombie virus in there...

  • by camperslo ( 704715 ) on Thursday June 16, 2011 @02:22PM (#36466172)

    When the Symbionese Liberation Army kidnapped Patty Hearst in Berkeley and demanded the distribution of food to the poor, Reagan joked, "It's just too bad we can't have an epidemic of botulism."

    Let's hope that governments and others don't do much with those nasties.

    Reagan quote is from The Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, California). March 14, 1974

    • by Anonymous Coward

      When the Symbionese Liberation Army kidnaps someone, what else is there to say? So like, um....did they ever get hit with an epidemic of botulism? A follow up to that story would have been nice.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      What about the rest of the story behind what shit the SLA really was? You fuck

    • by toriver ( 11308 )

      Ironically, thirty-odd years later botulism toxin is intentionally sprayed into countless Hollywood actors and actresses... what, you didn't know what "Botox" consisted of?

  • by girlintraining ( 1395911 ) on Thursday June 16, 2011 @02:34PM (#36466352)

    and bacterial strains that produce the botulinum neurotoxin.

    That bacteria can be found in most people's attics, inside canned food that's gone bad, and a whole lot of other places. Oh, and in cosmetic shops (botox anyone?). Good luck with that, Uncle Sam. It's like trying to regulate ricin; It's too easy to find and synthesize.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      It is the spore formers they are worried about. Botox or bad canned goods might kill someone or even a few people, but botox is for morons and canned food is tested in the U.S. so you are safe if you don't eat spoiled/past date canned goods. But when the bacteria starts to form spores is when it becomes dangerous as it can be weaponized and spread as an aerosol. Entire cities of people being infected is the real concern here, not a few individual cases. And trust me, they have response plans in place to dea
    • you forgot anthrax: just as prevalent

      and you're displaying your ignorance when you talk about how easy it is to find and synthesize:

      go ahead and try to concentrate/ weaponize without killing yourself (ricin/ botulism toxin/ anthrax)

      • It is actually very easy, if you have any bio lab experience at all. The likelyhood of killing yourself goes up dramatically if you have no idea about contamination control and biohazard personal protection equipment.
        • "it is actually very easy" said the anonymous RPG playing basement dweller

          the internet: where every 14 year old is a molecular biophysicist

        • As a trained biochemist, I'd say, yes, it is somewhat easy to get a culture going of whatever weaponizable germ you want - media are pretty standard and well published, the lab equipment will put you down a couple of grands, basic clue will keep you alive. However, actually weaponizing a strain you cultured - I have to admit that this is well beyond me (and I prefer it that way). For effect, you'll need to form a well-distributing aerosol, in a manner that germs survive, and that is an art in itself.
          • thank you

            and an art best forgotten

            now we must listen to the 14 year olds tell us how easy it is to weaponize

            • An art best forgotten indeed.
            • Uh. And what happens when the marauding killer space aliens that we are woefully unable to kill with our weapons come along?

              Where's our weaponized flu strains that are fatal to them? We'll be DOOMED.

              • Where's our weaponized flu strains that are fatal to them?

                I can't help but feel that this calls for a "Your mom" joke right about here. But I also can't bring myself to tell it. Oh, well.

            • now we must listen to the 14 year olds tell us how easy it is to weaponize

              Never said it would be easy to weaponize, just produce.

            • by Gryle ( 933382 )
              It depends on what you mean by "weaponize". Getting a living bio-agent to aerosolize or delivering it effectively via munitions is difficult at best, but contaminating water or food supplies is fairly straight-forward. The insidious thing about biological weapons (and here I'm talking about living organisms, not biologically-derived toxins) is that they propagate on their own.
              • As I said in reply to another poster, yes - I have been thinking more on the military side of things. Actually, I don't want to think along the lines you propose at all, but in the end, if terror is all you want, yes, sure, things like contamination of the water supply will do the trick - even just a handful of victims will be enough to spread panic.
              • It depends on what you mean by "weaponize"

                What "weaponize" means is "I can't write proper English".

              • Not so easy. Most infections don't spread so easily that they can't be contained. That is why we don't get pandemics often.

          • It don't have to be an aerosol to be a weapon, you could use your germs to contaminate a big building water supply, you could infect a meat proceeding plant. You could ... You just have to think like a terrorist and you will see that there are many massively lethal applications of dangerous pathogens that don't require

            to form a well-distributing aerosol, in a manner that germs survive

            , to cause a lot of terror, which is the point of the terrorist after all.

            • Admittedly, I have been thinking more military than terrorist there (and I am kinda thankful for the fact that I don't automatically think in terrorist terms...). Sure - even a single case of an obviously bioweapon-induced illness will cause more terror than I want to imagine. My point was more about military weaponization, the sort you'd use for area denial purposes.
          • by KDR_11k ( 778916 )

            Given the lethal dose of botox is it really necessary to keep the bacterium alive? Just synthesize a few grams of that stuff and go aerosol with it and you've got a weapon of mass destruction.

          • For effect, you'll need to form a well-distributing aerosol, in a manner that germs survive, and that is an art in itself.

            Damn, and here I am thinking a simple sneeze on a crowded subway would do the trick...

            • If you ever grew some bacterial cultures, especially one of the more obscure ones, apart from bog-standard lab-strain E. coli, you should have learned that the little buggers are quite some little princesses. At our lab, we used to joke about needing a "micropsychiatrist" to persuade them to grow as intended.
          • Please say "weaponize" again, my brain doesn't hurt enough yet.
        • by tsotha ( 720379 )

          It's not as easy as people generally believe. Take anthrax, for instance. Various groups (Aum Shinrikyo, Al Queda) and governments (Saddam's Iraq) have tried and failed to get something that has both potency and the proper physical characteristics. Anthrax comes in many strains, and not all of them are dangerous. Aum Shinrikyo, which was eventually able to mount the sarin gas attack in Tokyo, first tried to attack the city with anthrax. They had competent chemists and biochemists. And yet they failed

          • To "go ahead and try to concentrate/ weaponize without killing yourself" is easy. To successfully attack a population in the WMD style, takes a bit more.

            Finding a strain of anthrax which is suitible for attacking people would generally require testing on people. This is a simple concept, but apparently hard for the wackjobs to pull off. Perhaps the blatant horror of bioweopons development scared the actual researchers doing the worrk?

            Anthrax spores clump together, but that can be resolved if one
      • by Gryle ( 933382 )
        I'll agree with you on botulism toxin and anthrax, but the extraction of ricin from castor beans is pretty simple for anyone with a semester's worth of lab experience.
    • and oh look, they want to restrict access to bacillus anthracis, a soil-borne bacteria with spores that can be found on every continent.
      • and oh look, they want to restrict access to bacillus anthracis, a soil-borne bacteria with spores that can be found on every continent.

        They don't want to restrict it. They want it on a restricted list. It's the charge du jour for someone who hasn't committed a crime. "There's Anthrax in his garden!"

        • In Texas, having 3 pieces of labware is enough to be convicted of intent to manufacture methamphetamine. For example: Pyrex flask, filtration funnel, electric hotplate/heating element. These elements are all found in just about every coffee maker in the state. There are more than enough examples of this sort of thing already.
    • It is harder than it looks - botulinum strains are ubiquitous, but effective producers of potent toxin need to be isolated to make a weapon. A random selection of any of these pathogens is unlikely to be virulent or an effective toxin producer. This is why potent virulent strains of pathogens, like the anthrax Ames strain, are fairly big deals.

  • by WillAffleckUW ( 858324 ) on Thursday June 16, 2011 @02:46PM (#36466488) Homepage Journal

    While it is true that certain pathogens are virulent and can be airborne, ebola for example works so well because it has a long enough cycle to allow transmission.

    Instantly lethal pathogens don't spread much, since they aren't mobile in a host. Visible signs early slow spreading.

    You're at far more risk from food contamination in the food supply or sunstroke, actually.

    That said, wise decision for the actual Facilites doing pathogen research (which include some I've worked in).

  • by crunchygranola ( 1954152 ) on Thursday June 16, 2011 @03:05PM (#36466784)

    Tier 1:

    • Bacillus anthracis (anthrax)
    • Burkholderia mallei (glanders)
    • Burkholderia pseudomallei (melioidosis)
    • Ebola virus
    • Foot-and-mouth disease virus
    • Francisella tularensis (tularemia)
    • Marburg virus
    • Variola major virus (smallpox)
    • Variola minor virus (smallpox)
    • Yersinia pestis (plague)
    • Clostridium botulinum toxin producing strains (botulism) - a late addition to the list

    See: http://www.phe.gov/Preparedness/legal/boards/fesap/Documents/fesap-recommendations-101102.pdf [phe.gov]

    • I've noticed that the Tea Party has had some minor success the 5th virus you mentioned, "Foot In Mouth" virus
    • And most of those species have a half-dozen or more strains with different levels of toxicity. For example in B.Anthracis (NCBI taxon:1392) has almost a dozen strains. Strain Stern (NCBI taxon: 260799) is mostly harmless because it's missing the two plasmids found in some other strains like Ames and Ames Ancestor (NCBI taxon: 261594) which produces very deadly toxins from plasmid px01.
      Ames was the variant released in the Antrax Attacks of 2001.
      http://pathema.jcvi.org/pathema/anthrax_resources.shtml [jcvi.org]
      ht [wikipedia.org]
  • Full Monty Virus. [fanfiction.net] Why can't the DARPA crew waste billions on this Pathogen? It would be every extremists own personal nightmare.
  • Weaponized Margarine.
  • is now building the replacement institute for what was on Plum Island (emphasize ISLAND). This building is within eyesight of the university rec center, basketball coleseum, and football stadium.

    Yet again, pork barrel politics and money addicted higer learning institutes may soon have a body count.

I've noticed several design suggestions in your code.