ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network
Date:  30 November 2000


 While the upside of biotech has yet to be seen, the downside is coming into increasing focus:

Two items:

1.    Time to 'be paranoid'
2.    UN  urged to rethink eco-tourism

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1.    It's time to be 'paranoid'/They say world ill-prepared for bioterrorism
By Laurie Garrett,  (New York) 29 November 2000  [shortened]

Washington:  The world community, including the United States, is woefully ill-prepared for a biological warfare or bioterrorist event, despite spending more than $ 1 billion in the past five years, according to participants at the second national symposium on the issue.

George Poste, chairman of the Pentagon's advisory Defense Science Board, argued that, "biology is losing its innocence, and biotechnology undoubtedly changes the rules" of national security. During the Cold War, Poste said, the threat of nuclear proliferation was real, but limited to nations that could support large-scale physics and atomic programs.  In contrast, Poste warned, today every aspect of biology research and development is far cheaper, easier to hide and simpler to execute than the weapons technology of the Cold War.

Basic biomedical research under way in top private and public laboratories could prove useful for insidious weapons development, Poste said. For example, he noted that "gene therapy's goal is creation of stealth viral vectors that can introduce a gene, bypassing immune system recognition. What a perfect biological weapon!"

The bottom line is the so-called "dual use dilemma": Every breakthrough in biomedical research also has the potential of destroying significant segments of humanity. Key examples cited by Poste included: The recent creation of cyber-creatures, microorganisms made of non-living materials commanded by microchips rather than DNA. Such microscopic superbugs would be undetectable if introduced into the immune system and could theoretically be programed to conduct a host of lethal functions. Improved systems biology, using sophisticated computer software. Such systems could allow would-be bioweapons makers to test-run their lethal creations without endangering lives or drawing the attention of law enforcement.

In the past two years several laboratories have found ways to create hybrid microorganisms, blending the DNA of one type of bacteria with those of another. A clever bioweapons maker could then, blend the airborne transmission capacities of, say, tuberculosis with the super-lethal toxin-making capabilities of the bacteria that makes botulism. Viruses could be tailored to specifically deregulate human genes, resulting in a sort of genetic meltdown of the victim. Chemicals
might be tailored to similarly target key genetic control mechanisms, scrambling neural pathways that normally control violent behavior and other key human behaviors.

Even in the absence of such terrifying inventions, the United States is hard-pressed to meet bioweapons challenges, Poste said, noting that of the top 50 identified existing bioweapons agents, vaccines or treatments are available for only 12. Poste closed his talk with a slide reading, "Be Paranoid."
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2.    UN urged to rethink eco-tourism year
 (ENS) [shortened] 28 November 2000

MADRID:   To the World Tourism Organization, ecotourism deserves recognition, which is why the Madrid based United Nations body has declared 2002 International Year of Ecotourism. To the Philippines environment ministry, ecotourism can be a dirty word, synonymous with biopiracy.

Earlier this year, three French scientists were caught with illegally obtained plant specimens, believed to have medicinal values. "At least one tree with cancer curing potential, four native vegetables, one snail which produces the most effective painkiller, an antibiotic soil fungus, one fruit tree and several rice varieties, have been stolen and are now owned by foreign pharmaceutical firms," said Antonio Cerilles, Department of Environment and Natural Resources secretary.

Cerilles was explaining his order to the country's parks boards to enforce a "no permit, no collection" policy. Through biopiracy, he said, "firms and foreign governments secretly work with scientists within victim nations. They patent and map chromosomes of genetic resources without informing, consulting and duly compensating the sources."


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