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Medicine Your Rights Online

DNA Sequence Withheld From New Botulism Paper 182

New submitter rex.clts writes "In the IT security world, it is common practice to withhold specifics when announcing a newly discovered software vulnerability. The exact details regarding a buffer overflow or race condition are typically kept secret until a patch is available, to slow the proliferation of exploits against the hole. For the first time, this practice has been extended to medical publishing. A new form of Botulism has been identified, but its DNA sequence (the genetic code that makes up the toxin) has been withheld, until an antidote has been found. It seems that censorship in the name of "security" is spreading (with DHS involved this comes as no surprise.) Is this the right move?"
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DNA Sequence Withheld From New Botulism Paper

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  • by Jane Q. Public ( 1010737 ) on Saturday October 19, 2013 @02:53AM (#45173041)

    "There is botulism antitoxin to the previously known forms of botulism."

    According to Wikipedia, it isn't much of an antitoxin. The best it does is prevent the condition from worsening... it is very far from an "antidote".

  • by cshark ( 673578 ) on Saturday October 19, 2013 @02:54AM (#45173045)

    The only outcome of censorship, logically, is less of whatever it is you are trying to censor. So yes, if the objective is more science, and you would hope it would be, then you do not want the government interfering with it.

  • by sugar and acid ( 88555 ) on Saturday October 19, 2013 @03:10AM (#45173099)

    That is because of the action of botulism toxin is close to irreversible, taking months for the body to repair the damage to toxin does to the nervous system. It is why Botox (actually stands for botulism toxin, it's just really watered down to make it safe) has a "semipermanent" action of many months.

    The antitoxin does prevent further damage and halts the action of the toxin. Which could be the differences between loss of function of an arm for many months, or respiratory failure. The antitoxin works as well as it could be expected.

    There is a vaccine against the toxin itself. This is given to people at high-risk of being exposed to the toxin (researchers, personnel trained to deal with potential bioweapons attack). It probably isn't effective against this new toxin type.

  • Re:Right move (Score:4, Informative)

    by cusco ( 717999 ) <brian,bixby&gmail,com> on Saturday October 19, 2013 @10:21AM (#45174221)

    With the DNA sequence published, anyone with a simple bacteriological lab can produce it.

    Not at all. You would need a lab capable of building genes and inserting them into an organism, and there are only a few of those on the entire planet (most of them governmental). If you want to selectively breed the microbe for increased toxicity you can do that in your garage right now and the DNA sequence would be minimal if any help.

  • Re:Right move (Score:5, Informative)

    by Vesvvi ( 1501135 ) on Saturday October 19, 2013 @01:24PM (#45175513)

    You and the previous few generations of comments are both correct and wrong.

    The comment 3-up is wrong that anyone can do it: even with the sequence, it would be extremely difficult for even top-level professionals to do it from scratch.

    The comment 2-up is wrong to say that it's hard, because if you can get the DNA construct then it's extremely easy. This deserves clarification: nearly everyone here (Slashdot audience, not molecular biologists) is going to assume that there's a magic black box that will turn a sequence into a real physical DNA construct, and they are mistaken. Data/sequence to DNA construct, absent of anything else, is extremely hard.

    You are correct about nearly everything, except that it is not simple to just buy big sections of DNA. If you want 5-20 bases, that's not a problem. But this protein is ~450 bases long. You can't just order something like that, and "stitching it together" is possible but would probably take years to get right, even for a pro.

    But the idea behind your comment is still valid, because this gene will not be a from-scratch, random sequence. It's going to be 95+% identical to existing sequences, so instead of splicing together 60 synthetic sequences (purchased from a company), you only need to splice together maybe 2-4 big pieces. Those pieces could be purchased, or possibly isolated if you can get the bacteria.

Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later. -- F. Brooks, "The Mythical Man-Month"