Death in the Garage Next Door

BIOMAGE and I have been discussing this backyard bioweapons problem for almost fifteen years now.  We were quite concerned about the possibilities of a little company that used to be here in town, Research Genetics, since acquired by Invitrogen Corporation.  Custom sequencing of genes and garage labs, a nasty combination. 

The “new class of weapons” that Alibek describes Popov’s creating in Biohazard is a case in point. Into a relatively innocuous bacterium responsible for a low-mortality pneumonia, Legionella pneumophila, Popov and his researchers spliced mammalian DNA that expressed fragments of myelin protein, the electrically insulating fatty layer that sheathes our neurons. In test animals, the pneumonia infection came and went, but the myelin fragments borne by the recombinant Legionella goaded the animals’ immune systems to read their own natural myelin as pathogenic and to attack it. Brain damage, paralysis, and nearly 100 percent mortality resulted: Popov had created a biological weapon that in effect triggered rapid multiple sclerosis. (Popov’s claims can be corroborated: in recent years, scientists researching treatments for MS have employed similar methods on test animals with similar results.)

Well, that is a comforting thought, NOT!  But there is a rebuttal article that is less pessimistic.  It is an option for terrorists, but it is unclear how effective bioweapons made in this fashion would be.

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