JASON Proposes a “Library of Congress” for Pathogens

02.03.11 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

In order to help determine the origins of microbial threats in terrorist incidents or epidemics, it would be useful to have a deep archive of various strains of lethal bacteria, the JASON defense advisory panel told the National Counterproliferation Center in a newly released 2009 report (pdf).

Because of the natural variation in the microbes of interest, “we believe that a ‘Library of Congress’ for microbial pathogens is needed,” the JASONs said.

“This library would consist of strains collected worldwide by methods that preserve sample properties, and capture all relevant data (e.g. geolocation, local environmental conditions). It should include laboratory isolates, natural isolates, and DNA sequence data.”

Actually, it seems that the nucleus of such a library already exists.

“We were impressed with the efforts of the National Bioforensic Reference Collection along these lines.  The NBRC was initiated in October 2005 to receive and store reference materials for forensic analyses.  It currently has more than 30,000 samples of bacteria, viruses, and toxins, from both select and non-select agents, and is authorized to handle classified materials,” the JASONs said.

The JASON report assesses the current state of “microbial forensics,” which refers to the characterization of microbe samples in terrorism or law enforcement cases to establish their origins.

For reasons explained in the report, the forensic task is not a simple one.  In fact, “it is never possible to definitively link a sample to an attack based on genetic evidence alone.”

A copy of the JASON report was obtained by the Federation of American Scientists under the Freedom of Information Act.  See “Microbial Forensics,” JASON report JSR-08-512, May 2009.

See all publications
Nuclear Weapons
New Voices on Nuclear Weapons Fellowship: Creative Perspectives on Rethinking Nuclear Deterrence 

To empower new voices to start their career in nuclear weapons studies, the Federation of American Scientists launched the New Voices on Nuclear Weapons Fellowship. Here’s what our inaugural cohort accomplished.

11.28.23 | 3 min read
read more
Science Policy
Expected Utility Forecasting for Science Funding

Common frameworks for evaluating proposals leave this utility function implicit, often evaluating aspects of risk, uncertainty, and potential value independently and qualitatively.

11.20.23 | 11 min read
read more
Nuclear Weapons
Nuclear Notebook: Nuclear Weapons Sharing, 2023

The FAS Nuclear Notebook is one of the most widely sourced reference materials worldwide for reliable information about the status of nuclear weapons and has been published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists since 1987. The Nuclear Notebook is researched and written by the staff of the Federation of American Scientists’ Nuclear Information Project: Director Hans […]

11.17.23 | 1 min read
read more
Social Innovation
Community School Approach Reaches High of 60%, Reports Latest Pulse Panel

According to the National Center for Education Statistics’ August 2023 pulse panel, 60% of public schools were utilizing a “community school” or “wraparound services model” at the start of this school year—up from 45% last year.

11.17.23 | 4 min read
read more