Friday, June 01, 2007

A View to a Kill: Release of Microbe Study Spurs Bioterror Worries

The American humorist Will Rogers once quipped: "You can't say civilization isn't advancing. In every war they kill you in a new way.":

From Rick Weiss of the Washington Post, today:

"Researchers in Germany reported yesterday that they had altered the DNA of a disease-causing bacterium to enable it to infect a species it cannot normally sicken -- a double-edged advance that experts said could deepen scientists' understanding of human diseases but could also speed the development of novel bioterrorism agents.

The change in infectiousness -- the first of its kind ever engineered from scratch -- poses no direct threat to human health, scientists said, because the microbe already causes a human disease: the food-borne illness called listeriosis.

The change allows that microbe to sicken mice, a species it has no natural capacity to infect.

Still, the work has biosecurity implications because it could, in theory, be applied in reverse, endowing a bacterium that causes a serious animal disease with an unprecedented ability to sicken people."

Full text here.

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