Trick or treat?
1. Genetic code opens way to 'stealth' virus
2. CSIRO develops GM virus for mice
3. Human Cloning Easier Done Than Said


1. Genetic code opens way to 'stealth' virus
BY MARK HENDERSON, SCIENCE CORRESPONDENT,,2001350021-2001364877,00.html
London Times

ADVANCES in genetic technology will soon allow terrorists to create a new generation of ìdesignerî diseases that are many times more powerful than today's biological weapons, scientists have given warning.

Genetic engineering could easily be used to make existing viruses and bacteria more virulent or resistant to drugs, or even to design completely new germs, according to a new analysis of the future of biological weapons.

One particularly alarming prospect is a ìstealthî virus, which lurks unseen in the genome of an infected person and can be triggered by terrorists at any time by releasing an otherwise harmless chemical.  There are also concerns about the possible development of new agents that induce healthy cells to commit suicide, using technology that is being investigated for cancer therapy.

In an article published today in the journal Nature Genetics, Claire Fraser, of the Institute for Genomic Research in Rockville, Maryland, and Malcolm Dando, of the University of Bradford, say that the technology that allowed the mapping of the human genetic code could be used for evil ends as well as for good.

There is 'an increasing tide of concern, among both the scientific and security communities, that the revolution in biology could be misused in offensive biological weapons programmes directed against human beings,' they said.

'The threat of biological warfare and terrorism, though limited today, is real, and the genomics revolution has the potential to have major impacts on this most chilling threat during the 21st century. To ensure that the benign potential of benefits is realised, biologists will have to overcome their reluctance to discuss the implications of their work in the context of biowarfare and terrorist activities.'

In particular, publicly available information about the gene sequences of organisms such as the malaria parasite or the plague bacterium could be used as a terrorist ìcookbookî to select deadly traits.

'The ever-expanding microbial genome databases now provide a parts-list of all potential genes involved in pathogenicity and virulence, adhesion and colonisation of host cells, immune response evasion and antibiotic resistance from which to pick and choose the most lethal combination,' the scientists said.

Further in the future, scientists working for terrorist groups may be able to design even more terrifying germs. One possibility would be to exploit the ability of viruses to incorporate their DNA into that of a host organism.

This quality is already being used in gene therapy - by which genes are carried into the body by viral vectors to replace faulty copies that cause a disease - but could potentially be abused to create 'stealth' viruses. These would fix themselves undetected into a person's genome, to be activated when the victim comes into contact with certain environmental cues, probably a chemical released into a city.

'The ability to tag the genome of an entire population and attack it at will, or to produce an entirely new pathogen, clearly represents an order-of-magnitude change in capabilities,' Dr Fraser and Dr Dando said. Genomic advances might also be used to develop new defences against biological terrorism. DNA chips that can detect and identify any pathogen within seconds are not far away and new vaccines and drugs will also be developed, they added.


2. CSIRO develops GM virus for mice
[from CSIRO the organisation which previously brought you the GE mouse pox that could  wipe out all known mice, comes...]
ABC Rural News 19/10

CSIRO scientists are developing a genetically modified virus, which could help control mouse plagues in the future.  The virus causes infertility in female mice, but needs to be approved by the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator before commercial release.  Dr Lyn Hinds from CSIRO says there'll be rigorous testing to ensure the virus is mouse-specific, and she expects the community might take some convincing of the benefits.

Dr Lyn Hinds: People are very concerned when you talk about using genetically modified organisms. This is a virus and people don't always understand what viruses can do. We hear about viruses perhaps jumping species. This mouse virus, we're running tests now to ensure that it is truly only going to infect mice.


3. Human Cloning Easier Done Than Said
Oct. 2001 Issue of Biotechnology Focus

U.S. scientists have located a genetic difference that could make it less complicated to clone humans than sheep, cows, pigs and other  mammals.

According to a report published in a recent issue of Human Molecular  Genetics, using the latest gene mapping technology, Duke University  scientists observed that humans and other primates possess two active  copies of a gene called IGFR2 (insulin-like growth factor II receptor) that  prevents fetal development problems.  However, virtually all non-primate  mammals receive only one functional copy of this gene, making them more susceptible to cancer and cloning-related complications, such as immature lung development, enlarged heads, reduced immunity to disease and overly large offspring - a major obstacle in cloning animals.

"Only one in 300 sheep embryos takes hold, and up to half of these  embryos have large offspring syndrome, which can kill the mother and the  fetus.  Since humans are not imprinted at IGFR2, then fetal overgrowth  would not be predicted to occur if humans were cloned," said Keith Killian,  a Duke University Medical Center molecular evolutionist and first author of  the study.  Other scientists have asserted that other genes may contribute to the  problems seen in cloning animals.