Virulent Emerging Fungal Pathogen Infects Humans, Animals

Damage caused by C. gattii to lung cells (Credit: PLOS Pathogens)
Damage caused by C. gattii to lung cells (Credit: PLOS Pathogens)

A report in PLOS Pathogens last week has produced new details about an unusually virulent fungal infection caused by Cryptococcus gattii, which has emerged recently in the Northwest US and Canada.  The new study tracked the virulent fungus, which infected a wide array of mammals including humans, dogs, cats, sheep and alpaca, confirming a total of 18 infections in humans and 21 cases in other mammals that were isolated from Washington state and Oregon since 2005.  Continue reading

Welcome To The New FAS Biosecurity Blog!

The FAS Biosecurity Program now has a blog of its own. We have mirrored the archived biosecurity posts from our old home at the FAS Strategic Security Blog, and we will be posting new material here at least twice a week.

We invite analytical and factual comments that advance the debate, but reserve the right to abbreviate long submissions and reject derogatory or purely opinionated messages.

Welcome to our new home, and please feel free to let us know what you think of the blog, or what you would like us to cover!

Is The US Prepared For Bioweapons Decontamination?

UPMC Logo (Credit: http://www.upmc-biosecurity.org/)
UPMC Logo (Credit: http://www.upmc-biosecurity.org/)

A new report by the UPMC Center for Biosecurity suggests that the US remains unprepared for the task of decontaminating the site of a major biological weapon attack.  Decontamination after the comparatively small-scale Anthrax attacks of 2001 is estimated to have cost hundreds of millions of dollars, while shuttering some facilities for as long as two years.  By comparison, the costs of a larger scale attack on a major city could be staggering. Continue reading

Is The US Prepared For Bioweapons Decontamination?

A new report by the UPMC Center for Biosecurity suggests that the US remains unprepared for the task of decontaminating the site of a major biological weapon attack.  Decontamination after the comparatively small-scale Anthrax attacks of 2001 is estimated to have cost hundreds of millions of dollars, while shuttering some facilities for as long as two years.  By comparison, the costs of a larger scale attack on a major city could be staggering.

In particular, the report singles out several major problems:

–          Multiple Federal agencies have potentially conflicting responsibilities in the aftermath of an attack.  For example, the Federal Bureau of Investigation would be sampling the site for a criminal investigation, the Environmental Protection Agency would be working on decontamination and the Department of Health and Human Services (home of the Centers for Disease Control) would be tracking the epidemiology of any disease outbreak.

–          Research into the problem is split between at least five federal agencies with major programs that examine decontamination.  This work is also comparatively underfunded in the context of broader biodefense spending.

–          A number of potentially crucial issues remain unanswered; there are limited techniques for taking samples of large, outdoor areas, and it is unclear how much danger there might be of further spreading infectious material during a cleanup effort.

The report calls for the government to clarify the roles of Federal agencies, as well as building owners, in the aftermath of an attack.  It also recommends increased investment in research and infrastructure, especially trained first responder personnel.

Soviet Bioweapon Researchers Discuss Past, Future

Two leading Russian biological weapons scientists presented their inside view of the Soviet bioweapons program at a March 29th panel sponsored by the George Mason University Biodefense Program.  Dr. Guennady Lepioshkin, who headed the Anthrax production plant at Stepnogorsk in Kazakhstan, and GMU Professor Sergey Popov, who headed projects at the Vector Institute and other laboratories in Obolensk, Russia, presented candid personal accounts of life as bioweapons researchers.   Beyond their individual tales, the session offered several lessons that remain relevant to the modern discussion of biosecurity – cautionary tales about the publication of dual use research and the destructive potential of synthetic biology. Continue reading

Soviet Bioweapon Researchers Discuss Past, Future

Plaques formed by Bacillus anthracis on Sheep Blood Agar (Credit: http://phil.cdc.gov/phil/home.asp)
Plaques formed by Bacillus anthracis on Sheep Blood Agar (Credit: http://phil.cdc.gov/phil/home.asp)

Two leading Russian biological weapons scientists presented their inside view of the Soviet bioweapons program at a March 29th panel sponsored by the George Mason University Biodefense Program.  Dr. Guennady Lepioshkin, who headed the Anthrax production plant at Stepnogorsk in Kazakhstan, and GMU Professor Sergey Popov, who headed projects at the Vector Institute and other laboratories in Obolensk, Russia, presented candid personal accounts of life as bioweapons researchers.   Beyond their individual tales, the session offered several lessons that remain relevant to the modern discussion of biosecurity – cautionary tales about the publication of dual use research and the destructive potential of synthetic biology. Continue reading

Capitol Briefing on Biological Weapon Threats

A March 19th briefing at the US Capitol brought together a panel of experts to discuss the threat of biological weapons.  The briefing, titled “Deterring Biological Threats”, was hosted by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) and focused heavily on the historical records of the destructive potential of the Cold War bioweapons programs in the US and the USSR.  With more modern threats, such as Al Qaeda’s well-documented search for Anthrax, the amount of interest in biological attacks appears to be increasing.  The means of actually deterring and preventing these biological threats remain less clear. Continue reading

New Industry Biosecurity Conference To Host Experts from Government, Academia

A tight funding environment for academic research, coupled with rapid technological advances, has created an environment where innovation will increasingly occur in industry and at start-up companies.  Regulation in new fields, such as synthetic biology, trails the cutting edge of research, creating an extra need for industry to be involved in the discussion surrounding biosecurity.

A new conference hopes to fill this role by bringing top Administration and Agency officials directly to the site of the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) annual meeting.  Organized with the Partnership for Global Security (PGS) and the University of Pennsylvania Institute for Strategic Threat Analysis and Response (ISTAR), the new Biosecurity conference is notable in that it demonstrates a commitment by BIO to examine biosecurity issues.

Looking to foster the discussion, the Obama administration is sending a significant number of participants from various relevant agencies; Gary Samore, the White House Coordinator for the Prevention of WMD Proliferation and Terrorism, US Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, and Nicole Lurie, Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response at the Department of Health and Human Services, are expected to participate in the opening session.  The conference will also hold sessions on food security, public health surveillance, countermeasures, and risk mitigation.

More information is available at the conference web site, http://convention.bio.org/biosecurity/