Biological threats: present and
Dr Diego Buriot
24 August 2010
The Full Spectrum of Biological Risks
Terence Taylor, International Council for the Life Sciences
Naturally Reemerging Unintended Crime & BW
Laboratory Lack of Policy
Occurring Infectious Outcomes Counterfeit Sabotage Terrorism
Accidents Awareness Choices
Pandemic Diseases of Research Drugs State
Natural Accidental Intentional
18 February 2010 Biological Risk 2
Biological threats are an increasingly serious and complex threat to national
Knowledge, equipment, and pathogens required to construct a biological
weapon are now globally dispersed.
Historical evidence confirms the effectiveness of biological weapons, on both
a small and on a large scale.
Multiple assessments and reports from the U.S. government, the World Health
Organization (WHO), and others have concluded that, absent a rapid and
robust response, a biological weapons attack could results in thousands of
Extant intention to use biological weapons against the U.S. and other
countries, as recently voiced by terrorists and radical environmentalist
Barriers to the development have fallen quickly as necessary technologies
advance and grow more accessible. 3
Soviet biological weapons installations
Source : Global Security Org.
Source : Global Security Org. 4
Biological weapons use by small
1984 – USA – Rajneeshee bioterror attack
Followers of the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh attempted to control a local election by
incapacitating the local population. This was done by infecting salad bars in eleven
restaurants with Salmonella typhimurium bacteria in the city of The Dalles, Oregon.
The attack infected 751 people with severe food poisoning. However, there were no
1993 - Japan – Aum Shinrikyo anthrax release in Kameido
The religious group Aum Shinrikyo released anthrax in Tokyo. Eye witnesses reported a
foul odor. The attack was a total failure, infecting not a single person. This case shows
how difficult it is to aerolize anthrax spores in high concentration.
2001 – USA- Anthrax Attacks
In September and October 2001, letters laced with infectious anthrax were delivered to
news media offices and the U.S Congress. The letters killed 5. Tests on the anthrax
strain used in the attack pointed to a domestic source, possibly from the biological
Assessing the Threat and the US Government’s
Ability to Respond
The U.S. intelligence community has assessed the threat of an attack on the U.S. using
biological weapons, and they have determined that the threat of a biological attack on
the U.S. is current and real.14 Yet, as noted by the Commission on the Prevention of
Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism (the Commission) in their
World at Risk report released in December 2008, the U.S. remains vulnerable and
unprepared to deal with such an attack.
The World at Risk report concluded that, unless the international community acts
resolutely and with great urgency, there is a high likelihood that a weapon of mass
destruction (WMD) would be used in a terrorist attack somewhere in the world by 2013.
The Commission emphasized that the weapon is more likely to be biological than
nuclear, and the Director of National Intelligence publicly agreed with the report’s threat
assessment, saying, ‘‘We [the intelligence community] assess biological as the more
likely and it’s better than an even chance in the next five years that an attack by one of
those weapons systems will be conducted in some place on the globe. . . .’’
In addition, the Commission concluded that, to date, the U.S. government has placed
greater emphasis on programs to prevent nuclear terrorism, and that the government
‘‘should make the more likely threat— bioterrorism—a higher priority.’’
Can we control biological materials or information in ways
that slow biological weapons development or use?
Can we improve transparency among countries on
biological weapons issues?
Can we strengthen moral and behavioral norms against
Can we improve intelligence and interdiction?
Can we improve surveillance and international
collaboration on infectious disease monitoring and
Can we improve forensics, attribution, or deterrence?
Can we strengthen biodefense as a means of dissuasion?
The nuclear nonproliferation and prevention
model does not apply to biological weapons
Primary goals of nuclear nonproliferation and prevention
– Secure fissile material around the world.
– Secure highly technical information about nuclear weapons
– Prevent the emergence of new nuclear states and nuclear testing
through inspections, aerial reconnaissance, and sophisticated
seismic, hydroacoustic, radionuclide, and other forms of
– Prevent the divergence of nuclear fuel into the weapons cycle.
– Maintain current and seek new treaty arrangements (NPT, Fissile
Material Cut-off Treaty, CTBT) in pursuit of these policy goals.
– Maintain deterrence through nuclear forensics, attribution, and the
promise of retribution.
400 research entities and 15 300 individuals cleared in the US to have
access to select agents which include anthrax, smallpox and Ebola
– Physical measures: GGG
– Security risk assessment process (databases of criminals immigrations and
Scientific Advances Could Lower Bar for
Current technologies enable aerosol
dissemination of biological weapons
Advances in genomics: beyond traditional
Synthetic biology: inert ingredients and
Wall Street Journal Aug. 11 2010
Scientific and technological advances that allow more biological research
experiments to be conducted outside of institutional settings are raising fears that
terrorists could also find it easier to produce and weaponize disease materials
Lack of expertise and access to the advanced technology required for pathogen
development have been seen as key barriers to extremists' ability to develop and
use a biological weapon.
Just 10 years ago, only a small number of facilities had the technology and
knowledge to conduct sophisticated biological research. Now, however, amateur
collaborative biology efforts have emerged that allow hobby scientists to exchange
insights on activities such as isolation of genetic substances and constructing
efficient centrifuges. This movement has been supported by relatively inexpensive
equipment that can be used at home.
“If students can order any (genetic sequence) online, somebody could try to make
the Ebola virus," Craig Venter, who produced one of the world's first synthetic
organisms, said in July. "We are limited more by our imagination now than any
technological limitations," Venter said.
DIY Bio is an organization dedicated to making biology an
accessible pursuit for citizen scientists and amateur biologists
who value openess and safety.
The do it yourself movement is rapidly expanding around the
world as evident by the map below depicting local groups
involved in the movement.
Science community must
engage in governance of
International treaties and agreements
The BWC is the first treaty to ban an entire class of weapons. While it upholds a
strong moral norm, some nations have flagrantly disregarded it. This has led to an
attempt to create a verification regime, which failed in 2001. Many experts believe
that, unlike nuclear weapons, verification for biological weapons is not possible.
The IHR was originally intended to minimize disruption of trade in times of disease
emergencies. In 2005, theWHO revised the IHR, transforming the agreement to
serve as a means of enhancing transparency about disease outbreaks among nations.
Under the IHR, nations are required to report to the WHO an event constituting a
‘‘public health emergency of international concern.’’
UNSCR 1540 aims to ensure that no state or nonstate actor is a source or beneficiary
of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) proliferation. Under full implementation,
the actions of each state are intended to strengthen international standards relating to
the export of sensitive materials and to ensure that nonstate actors do not gain access
to nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons, their means of delivery, or related
G-8 Nonproliferation Program Faces
Money could be directed to help developing nations eyeing
biotechnology as a means of growth to bring their biological security
standards up to levels established by the Organization for Economic
Cooperation and Development.
Program managers must look beyond the "guards, guns and gates" that
characterize today's nonproliferation approaches.
Engaging private industry in a way that would incent them in the
biological area to engage in more rigorous self-regulation.
Capacity to respond rapidly and effectively:
essential elements of biodefense
Care for the sick
Protect those who are well
Minimize social and economic disruption
Assign attribution for attack
Identification of bioweapons
Health care providers and public health officers are among the first
lines of defense
The growing threat of biowarfare agents and bioterrorism has led to the
development of specific field tools that perform on-the-spot analysis
and identification of encountered suspect materials.
– One such technology, being developed by researchers from the Laurence Livemore National
Laboratory (LLNL), employs a "sandwich immunoassay", in which fluorescent dye-labeled
antibodies aimed at specific pathogens are attached to silver and gold nanowires.
– In the Netherlands, the company TNO has designed Bioaerosol Single Paricle Recognition
Equipment (BiosparQ). This system would be implemented into the national response plan for
bioweapons attacks in the Netherlands.
– Researchers at Ben Gurion University in Israel are developing a different device called the
BioPen, essentially a "Lab-in-a-Pen", which can detect known biological agents in under 20
minutes using an adaptation of the ELISA, a similar widely employed immunological
technique, that in this case incorporates fiber optics.
- Unclear roles and responsibilities
- Research not coordinated
- Research underfunded
- Resources and methods lacking for sampling, testing and
- Unresolved scientific issues
- Too few trained personnel
- Inadequate guidance for building owners
As bioscience and biotechnology advance, the
bioterror threat will grow
Prevention is not only gates, guns and guards.
Nothing will be done without support from the
Preparedness is key to biodefense
Global capacity to mitigate bioterror attack could
greatly diminish the consequences of natural
epidemics of infectious diseases
Questions for the group
Why biorisk’perception is so different
among countries? How to assess it? How to
As scientists’ education about potential dual
use nature of most biotechnology
equipment, facilities, and activities is so
important, is there a role for the World
Federation of Scientists?
Biological warfare in history
Tartar leader Khan Janibeg is said to have thrown plague corpses into the city
of Kaffa to infect the inhabitants.
Japan experiments with Chinese prisoners of war and uses biological weapons
in attacks on Chinese towns during World War II.
UK military researchers perform tests with anthrax bombs on the Scottish
island of Gruinard, rendering the island off limits for people for 50 years.
The US maintained a huge offensive bioweapons program that produced a
variety of agents.
Boris Yeltsin admits the former Soviet Union had a large biological weapons
program. A 1979 anthrax accident near Sverdlosk cost 100 lives.
UNSCOM finds final proof for an offensive biowarfare programme in Iraq.
What Is Decontamination?
Decontamination is the process of removing or inactivating a hazardous substance (in this case,
a biological agent) from contaminated environments or surfaces, including skin, clothing,
buildings, air, and water, in order to prevent adverse health events from occurring. Remediation
following an attack with a biological weapon will involve a number of different phases of
Sampling, Testing, and Analysis: During this phase, sampling of the suspected contaminated
area is done to detect the presence of the biological agent and to characterize the extent and
levels of contamination. These samples must be tested, either rapidly on the scene (if the
technology is available) or sent to a laboratory.
Containment and Mitigation: In this phase, scientists, responders, and decision makers in the
government assess the risks associated with the attack, including the risks of spreading the agent
through movement, re-aerosolization, and other methods of dispersion. This risk assessment will
help determine decontamination methods and timelines.
Decontamination, Confirmatory Sampling, and Testing: During this phase, decontamination
methods and technologies would be used to clean the contaminated area and dispose of
contaminated materials. Cleanup criteria will need to be set and measured to determine when
decontamination is complete and the area can be reinhabited. This also involves confirmatory
sampling and may require re-decontamination procedures and further sampling and analysis.
Examples of Biological Agents of Concern and
Their Stability in the Environment
Bacillus anthracis (anthrax): very stable in most environments; risk of secondary
Brucella (brucellosis): stable in moist conditions.
Burkholderia mallei (glanders): stable in water and moist conditions; unstable in dry
conditions and UV exposure.
Yersinia pestis (plague): unstable in the outdoor air; stable for years in soil and live
Francisella tularensis (tularemia): stable in cold, moist conditions; stability following
intentional aerosolization is uncertain.
Coxiella burnettii (Q fever): stable for months on wood and sand.
Variola major (smallpox): unstable: the virus would be nearly completely destroyed in
the environment after 24 hours.
Viral hemorrhagic fevers (Ebola, Marburg, etc.): unstable in their natural state; these
viruses are not expected to persist in the environment.
Botulinum toxin (botulism): relatively unstable, will degrade naturally in outdoor
environments within a few days; stable for weeks in food and standing water.
Ricin: stable in the environment but heat sensitive.
“The single most important failure in the
history of forecasting has been grossly
underestimating the impact of technology”
Peter Schwartz in the art of the long vue
ADHERENCE TO AND COMPLIANCE WITH ARMS CONTROL, ON
PROLIFERATION, AND DISARMAMENT AGREEMENTS AND
COMMITMENTS, July 2010
Prepared by the U.S. Department of State
Report Warns of Potential State Bioweapons
Programs Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2010