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"De Novo" Viruses Raise Terrorism Concerns

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posted on Jul, 31 2006 @ 04:35 PM
Made to order viruses have been around since 2002, but concerns are rising as a result of recent work done by German-born molecular geneticist Eckard Wimmer. Although the Bush administration has acknowledged this threat, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has done nothing to police the gene-synthesis industry. Many fear that this technology could be used to create strains of pathogens that are immune to known cures creating an extreme bioterrorism threat. Others believe that terrorists are more likely to use far less challenging technologies for bioterrorism.
In 2002, the German-born molecular geneticist [Eckard Wimmer] startled the scientific world by creating the first live, fully artificial virus in the lab. It was a variation of the bug that causes polio, yet different from any virus known to nature. And Wimmer built it from scratch.

The virus was made wholly from nonliving parts, using equipment and chemicals on hand in Wimmer's small laboratory at the State University of New York here on Long Island. The most crucial part, the genetic code, was picked up for free on the Internet. Hundreds of tiny bits of viral DNA were purchased online, with final assembly in the lab.

Wimmer intended to sound a warning, to show that science had crossed a threshold into an era in which genetically altered and made-from-scratch germ weapons were feasible. But in the four years since, other scientists have made advances faster than Wimmer imagined possible. Government officials, and scientists such as Wimmer, are only beginning to grasp the implications.

"The future," he said, "has already come."

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This reminds me of the film "Twelve Monkeys." The more we learn about our biology, the more of a threat we become to ourselves. Like chemical warfare, bio-warfare can kill the attackers as easily as it kills the the attacked. The potential for catastrophic results would be enormous if a genetically-engineered pathogen was released, especially with the impact of mass transportation on epidemics.

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[edit on 2006/7/31 by GradyPhilpott]

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