Biological Weapons and Genetic Science

This is the core page for the Bioweapons thinking.

The trigger for this thinking was an article in the New Scientist which outlined the consequences of a single point outbreak of Foot and Mouth disease. The consequences were enormous, and no-one was trying to spread the disease - just the opposite. (see Potential Effects for more information on this thought.).

Should someone be determined to spread an infective agent, whether to infect humans, animals or plants, the human, social, and economic effect would be incredible. The 1972 Biological weapons convention is still awaiting ratification. The problem at the moment is that the new President Bush doesn't want the stringent inspection proposals that would make it effective.

Attending a Genewatch Conference changed my thinking in two ways.

  1. Existing biological weapons are disastrous enough without any genetic modification. The delivery of anthrax, Plague or other virulent illness is in itself a sufficient threat. It is unlikely therefore that genetic modification will be used to enhance already deadly agents.
  2. Genetic technology can be, and is being used to develop a different class of threat.
    Examples of such are;
    1. fungi that consume polyurethane plastics;
    2. bacteria that change oil into crystalline material (great for jamming up the enemies machinery);
    3. bacteria that will clog filters;
    4. and fungi developed to destroy coca, poppy and cannabis plants (ready to use, in fact planned for last year, but untested on plants in the same family from other parts of the world).
    5. Stable bio regulators, to cause heart attacks and other biological responses.

Such agents are genetically engineered, and no evaluation of the environmental implications of using such agents has been carried out in the public arena.

Gene Watch Conference

"Biological Weapons and the New Genetics - avoiding the threat."
Friday 18th May 2001

Conference Index

Section 1: Biological Weapons and the New Genetics
a) Brief History: Dr. Brian Balmer – UCL
b) The Potential for abuse: Drs. Simon Whitby & Piers D. Millett
c) Response: Prof. Peter Biggs
d) Discussion chaired:Dr. Sue Mayer

Section 2: Verification & Compliance
a) What’s needed: Dr. Oliver Meier
b) Response: Dr. David Kelly
c) Discussion chaired by: Dr. Alistair Hay

Section 3: The Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention
a) Present status of the protocol to the BWTC: Dr Daniel Feakes (co authored with Jez Littlewood)
b) Response: Dr. Jeff Kipling
c) Discussion Chaired by: Prof. Julian Perry Robinson

Section 4: Additional Measures for Security
a) Beyond the protocol: Jan van Aken
b) What can the scientific and Medical Communities do?; Dr. Alistair Hay
c) Discussion chaired by Dr. Sue Mayer

Summing up by Prof. Julian Perry Robinson