Author: Renee Tran

The Monthly Roundup: June 2011

Popular headlines in biosecurity news The Monthly Roundup is a new article featuring the top news stories from the Virtual Biosecurity Center (VBC). The VBC is a global resource for daily biosecurity news and current topics. Every month, a collection of the VBC’s most popular headlines will be summarized with a brief analysis to keep you updated on the latest in biosecurity. 1. Smallpox Destruction Gets Deferred On May 24th, 2011, after much anticipation and debate, the World Health Assembly agreed to postpone the destruction of the last known stockpiles of the smallpox virus until 2014. The consensus was reached after two days of deliberation at the 64th World Health Assembly (WHA), the 193 state-comprised forum of the World Health Organization (WHO), which took place from May 16-24, 2011 in Geneva. Smallpox, a deadly infectious disease caused by the Variola major and Variola minor viruses, was declared globally eradicated over 30 years ago. Live samples of the virus have since been securely held at two WHO repositories in the U.S. and Russia for research purposes. The decision to destroy the remaining stocks was first put forth in 1996 and has since been repeatedly postponed.

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Overview: HHS Screening Framework for Providers of Synthetic dsDNA

DNA Helix (Credit: The DNA Project) The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released its much-anticipated Guidance report on Wednesday, Oct. 13th 2010, describing a recommended screening method for synthetic double-stranded DNA (dsDNA) manufacturers. The report provides the recommended framework for the screening of orders to ensure manufacture compliance with current Select Agent Regulations (SAR) and Export Administration Regulations (EAR) and reduce the risk of supplying products to individuals that may exploit this dual-use technology for malicious intent.

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Farewell to Bill Patrick, “Bioweaponeer”.

Dr. William "Bill" C. Patrick III, 1926-2010 (Credit: fredericknewspost.com) Dr. William “Bill” C. Patrick III, 84, passed away on Friday, Oct. 1, 2010. Born on July, 24, 1926 in Southhampton, SC, Patrick was a U.S. veteran and influential microbiologist that devoted over three decades of service to the U.S. Army’s headquarters for biological weapons research in Fort Detrick, MD. After serving in the Army during World War II, Patrick received a graduate degree from the University of South Carolina (1948) and a master’s degree in microbiology and biochemistry from the University of Tennessee (1949).

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GAO To Review FBI’s Case Against Bruce Ivins

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) will conduct an examination of the scientific and technical methods used by the FBI during its investigation of 2001 anthrax attacks, in response to a request made by U.S. Rep. Rush Holt (NJ-D) earlier this year. After an eight year-long investigation, the FBI closed the Amerithrax case back in February and concluded that Bruce Ivins, a troubled lab worker at Ft. Detrick, was solely responsible for the anthrax mailings that killed five people in 2001. However, skepticism has long lingered the minds of many on the science and validity behind these conclusions, particularly after Ivin’s suicide in 2008.

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HHS BARDA Awards Four Contracts to Medical Countermeasure Technologies

BARDA, the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), recently awarded four contracts for the research and development of innovative platform technologies in medical countermeasure development. Contracts were awarded to the following organizations to continue development: the Program for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH), the Infectious Disease Research Institute (IDRI) in Seattle, VaxDesign Corp. in Orlando and Pfenex Inc. in San Diego. A collective total of $24.6 million is allotted for initial phases and up to $53.6 million over three years.

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Craig Venter’s Synthetic Genome: A Future Biosecurity Concern?

Colonies of the transformed Mycoplasma mycoides bacterium. Credit: J. Craig Venter Institute J. Craig Venter of the J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI) in Rockville, MD announced last week that his team was able to successfully create a bacterial cell controlled by a chemically assembled, man-made genome. This breakthrough discovery in the emerging field of synthetic genomics raises some concern in the biosecurity community and prompted President Obama to call for “… a study of the implications of this scientific milestone, as well as other advances that may lie ahead in this field of research” at the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues held on Thursday, May 20, 2010.

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