Friday, October 31, 2003

Government funded scientist geneticially engineers lethal virus 

A scientist from St. Louis University in Missouri has used genetic engineering to create a form of mousepox that can kill even vaccinated mice and mice that have been treated with antiviral drugs.

Prof. R. Mark Buller, of the University's Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology, told New Scientist that such research was necessary to explore what bioterrorists might do.

But that argument is actually an end-run around the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) of which the U.S. is a signatory. The BTWC allows research for defensive purposes, but not offensive purposes. The U.S. expands its own arsenal of bioweapons by saying, "There are terrorists out there who want to attack us with biological weapons. We have to do defensive research to find vaccines and antidotes. In order to find the vaccine or antidote, we have to know how the weapon works." So they create the weapon in the first place under the guise of looking for the vaccine or the antidote.

Buller's work involves a gene that creates IL-4, a natural immunosuppressant. He has also modified cowpox with this gene. The altered cowpox is soon to be to be tested on mice at the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) at Fort Detrick, Maryland. Buller is confident that IL-4 is species specific, but can anyone be sure that what is species specific in nature will remain so when genetic engineering is involved?

According to the resume posted on the Internet, Professor Buller has been a special reviewer for the smallpox research program of the Centers for Disease Control. He has been associated in various ways with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, since 1982. In 2002, he was a member of an NIAID Blue-Ribbon Panel on Bioterrorism and its Implications on Biomedical Research.

The New Scientist article did not state which department of the U.S. Government is funding his research.

Viruses whose names end in pox, including smallpox, are all members of the orthopox virus family. Buller presented his research at a conference on Smallpox Biosecurity in Geneva, Switzerland in mid-October.

One must ask, are we safer from bioterrorism when government-funded scientists are genetically engineering new and more lethal viruses in their labs? Who watches the watchers?

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