ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

30 November 2001


1. US expert believed behind anthrax attacks
2. GM & Bio-weapons Control Must Go Together


1. US expert believed behind anthrax attacks - REUTERS

GERMANY: November 29, 2001

BERLIN - The anthrax attacks in the United States were probably the work of a member of a U.S. biological warfare programme, the magazine of environment pressure group Greenpeace Germany reported yesterday.

The magazine said its article was based on information from a U.S. delegation source at the United Nations biological weapons conference in Geneva that began last week. The attacks have killed five people.

"The U.S. delegation believe it is an inside job... Their members also have more information than has been made public," Kirsten Brodde, a reporter for the magazine, told Reuters.

The magazine said: "It seems the attacker...wanted to force through an increase in the budget for U.S. research on biological weapons."

It speculated that the attacker, who used anthrax-laced mail, had probably wanted to cause panic rather than kill anyone.

U.S. investigators have still not determined who was behind the attacks, but Attorney General John Ashcroft has signalled the authorities were inclined to believe they had a domestic source.

The attacks occurred in the aftermath of the September 11 suicide plane attacks on New York and Washington and prompted initial accusations by President George W. Bush that Saudi-born militant Osama bin Laden may been responsible.

Asked about the magazine article, an FBI spokesman reiterated that investigators were pursuing a number of leads but no arrests appeared imminent.

A spokesman for the U.S. delegation in Geneva said he did not have any information about the article.

The magazine is linked to the environmental lobby group and shares its offices, but it said it was financially and editorially independent.



2. GM & Bio-weapons Control Must Go Together

Talk presented to Workshop on Bio-weapons and GM, during the Fifth Review Conference of the Biological Weapons Convention, Geneva, 20 November, 2001, by Dr. Mae-Wan Ho

The basic tools and materials for making bio-weapons are the same as those used in 'legitimate' GM applications. There is little or no effective defence against bio-weapons, and GM may be worse. While bio-weapons are made under strictly contained conditions, many dangerous experiments are being done without adequate safety precautions, and hazardous GM products released into the environment as if they were safe. We urgently need to bring both GM and bio-weapons under peaceful international control.

The Biological Weapons Convention to stop proliferation of biological weapons came into force in 1975 and now has 144 state parties, but it lacks provision to monitor and verify compliance. That is particularly serious in the era of genetic engineering, when new and dangerous pathogens can easily be created in small research laboratories. Monitoring is difficult because genetic engineering is used for "legitimate" purposes such as vaccine production or research on how bacteria and viruses cause diseases.

Biological weapons have been back on the agenda ever since it transpired that USSR had been active in bio-weapons research towards the end of the cold war. Earlier this year, the US government drew up plans to engineer a potentially more potent variant of the deadly anthrax bacterium in order to assess whether the vaccine now being given to millions of American soldiers is effective against a more deadly version of the bacterium [1]. Russian scientists have created such a super-bug in 1995, by splicing a gene from Bacillus cereus, a food borne pathogen, into the anthrax bacterium.

Unfortunately, there is little or no effective defence against biological weapons. Events following the anthrax attacks are showing up huge inadequacies in coping with bio-warfare [2]. Vaccines are no protection, and may be worse than useless. Vaccines cannot be made against unknown diseases. Of the known diseases, the most feared are smallpox and anthrax. But vaccines stocks are depleted and deteriorating, as are antidotes for treating adverse reactions due to vaccines.

The side effects of smallpox vaccines include an often fatal reaction known as vaccinia necrosum that destroy flesh and muscle, encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), aggressive eczema, and in people suffering from immune damage such as those infected with HIV, a dangerous pox infection. Today, there are hundreds of thousands in the US with weakened immune systems from HIV and other viruses, as well as from drugs used to treat cancer and prevent rejection of organ transplants. Such people could become ill from the vaccine and infect others, precipitating an epidemic.

Moreover, vaccines cannot be tested for efficacy and safety in the absence of a substantial population of the afflicted.

The Food and Drug Administration is attempting to overcome this deadlock. It published and requested comments on a proposed rule for approving new drugs and biological products developed to prevent serious or life-threatening conditions based only on evidence of effectiveness derived from animal studies. In other words, in a state of emergency, human beings will have to be guinea pigs. Large pharmaceutical companies are currently being compelled to manufacture some 300 million doses of smallpox vaccine as an unlicensed "investigational new drug".

Efforts by the Pentagon to vaccinate 2.4 million military personnel with the anthrax vaccine have run into stubborn opposition by soldiers, sailors and airmen who maintain that a disproportionate number of those taking the shots have suffered dangerous side effects. This vaccine has been implicated in Gulf War syndrome and deaths.

An article in Nature Genetics warns that, compared with chemical and nuclear weapons, "biological weapons pose by far the greatest threat, because they can be as lethal as nuclear weapons and are easier to obtain" [3].

New knowledge of the human and other genomes is making it possible to enhance antibiotic resistance and virulence of pathogens. Pathogens could be made harder to detect, diagnose and treat simply by recombining parts from several pathogens. Researchers in Australia who inadvertently transformed the relatively harmless mouse-pox virus into a lethal pathogen, also showed how that could be done: by incorporating a gene that undermines the immune system [4]. Predicted for decades, the possibility of targeting specific human populations and ethnic groups may be getting closer to reality, although no race-specific genes have been identified thus-far, and hopefully never will.

And "legitimate" uses of GM have been raising serious safety concerns.

There have been numerous breaches of safety regulations in university laboratories researching dangerous pathogens in Britain, such as dengue fever virus, AIDS virus, TB bacteria, and lethal encephalitis virus [5].

Many dangerous research projects are being carried out in genetic engineering laboratories around the world.

A lethal mousepox virus was created in Canberra Australia, in a genetic engineering experiment to design a contraceptive vaccine for mice [4]. In Marburg Germany, a mutant Ebola virus, created in the course of investigating the virus' ability to cause disease, was significantly more
lethal to cells than the natural virus [6]. Researchers in Kyoto University Japan and in other laboratories have created 'SHIVs', hybrids between the human and monkey AIDS virus containing human interleukin genes that suppress immune response against viruses, in order to investigate the role of the interleukins in AIDS disease [7]. At the same time, GM crops engineered with interleukin genes are being grown in open field trials [8]. One SHIV used in monkeys mutated into a pathogen so powerful that it kills rhesus macaques in weeks [9]. But this pathogen is now used as an AIDS vaccine challenge in all United States NIH-funded research. Genetic engineers are creating new viruses in the process of cloning, or just to show it can be done [10]. The safety of genetic engineered vaccines is being called into question.

Evidence is accumulating that AIDS vaccines based on the HIV glycoprotein not only undermine the immune system of individuals but are also likely to create deadly viruses and bacteria that can spread through entire populations [11]. These vaccines are being used effectively as slow bio-weapons in mass clinical trials around the world, as Dr. Veljkovic and I have warned in a letter to Dr. Gro Bruntland, Director General of the WHO [12]. A live GM vaccinia-rabies vaccine for wild life has infected a woman resulting in serious illness [13]. The hazards of gene therapy research are beginning to unfold since the death of teenager Gelsinger from a clinical trial two years ago [14]. The common gene therapy vector that killed him from toxic shock is now found to cause cancer in mice [15].

Earlier, the most common gene transfer vector used in plants was found to transfer genes into the human genome, with the potential to cause genetic damage including cancer [16].

The soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, from which endotoxin (Bt) genes are extracted and widely incorporated into GM crops as bio-pesticide, was found to be a very close relative of the anthrax bacterium [17]. Furthermore, at least some Bt genes are toxic or allergenic for human beings [18].

The events surrounding the foot and mouth disease outbreak in the UK, which started in February this year, suggest that it may be linked to tests of GM vaccines against the foot and mouth disease virus in 'simulated' bio-warfare emergencies [19]. There was an early report that the anthrax strain involved in the US attacks was genetically modified [20], though this has not been confirmed.

GM experiments are in some respects worse than biological weapons. For every biological warfare agent, it is possible to know its biological origin, its mode of action, where it is produced and where it is released, providing the BWC Protocol can be agreed. But in the case of accidental creation of deadly pathogens in GM experiments, or contamination with GM microorganisms, none of these parameters is known, and in most cases cannot even be predicted. In the event of disease outbreaks, diagnosis will be delayed, and more people will get ill and die.

Moreover, bio-warfare agents are made under strictly contained conditions, whereas potentially dangerous agents are being inadvertently widely released into the environment or into human populations as though they were safe.

Genetic engineers are playing genetic Russian roulette with GM viruses and bacteria. The barrel of the gene gun is pointed at all of us: humans, domesticated plants and animals and wild life included.

There is an urgent need for goodwill on all sides, to bring both bio-weapons and genetic engineering under peaceful international control.

To support this statement, please e-mail your intention and details to
Visit ISIS website for the list of current signatories

1. "U.S. Germ Warfare Research Pushes Treaty Limits" by Judith Miller, Stephen Engelberg and William J. Broad, New York Times, September 4, 2001.
2. "Biodefence in tatters" by Mae-Wan Ho, ISIS Report, 8 November 2001
3. Dando MR. Genomics and future biological weapons: the need for preventative action by the biomedical community. Nature genetics 2001, 29, 253-6.
4. "Disaster in the making" by R. Nowak, New Scientist 2001, 13, 4-5.
5. "Threat from fatal bugs as labs breach safety rules" by Antony Barnett, The Observer, August 19, 2001.
6. Volchkov VE, Volchkova VA, Muhlberger E, Kolesnikova LV, Weik M, Dolnik O, Klenk H-D. Recovery of infectious Ebola virus from complementary DNA: DNA editing of the GP gene and viral cytotoxicity. Science 2001, 291, 1965-9.
7. Kosyrev, Miura T, Haga T, Kuwata T and Hayami M. Construction of SIV/HIV-1 chimeric virus having the IL-5 gene and determination of their ability to replicate and produce IL-5. Arch Virol 2001, 146,1051-62.
8. See "GM AIDS virus more lethal" by Joe Cummins & Mae-Wan Ho ISIS News 11/12, October 2001, ISSN: 1474-1547 (print) ISSN: 1474-1814
9. See "Skeptical about AIDS vaccine; testing method questioned" by Laurie Garrett, Newsday (New York), September 6, 2001.
10. See "Genetic engineering superviruses" by Mae-Wan Ho, ISIS News 9/10, July 2001, ISSN: 1474-1547 (print) ISSN: 1474-1814 (online)
11. Veljkovi V, Metlas R, Kohler H, Urnovitz HB, Prljic J, Veljkovic N, Johnson E and Muller S. AIDS epidemic at the beginning of the third millennium: time for a new AIDS vaccine strategy. Vaccine 2001, 19, 1855-62; see also See "AIDS Vaccines Trials Dangerous" ISIS News1/12, October 2001, ISSN: 1474-1547 (print) ISSN: 1474-1814 (online)
12. Letter to Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director General of WHO, from Veljko Veljokovic and Mae-Wan Ho, 1 October 2001.
13. Rupprecht CE, Blass L, Smith K, Orciari LA, Niezgoda M, Whitfield SG, Gibbons RV, Guerra M and Hanlon CA. Human infection due to recombinant vaccinia-rabies glyco-protein virus. The New England journal of Medicine 2001, 345, 582.
14. "Gene therapy oversold by scientists who disregard risks" by Angela Ryan, ISIS News 9/10, July 2001, ISSN: 1474-1547 (print) ISSN: 1474-1814
15. "Common gene therapy vector causes cancer" by Mae-Wan Ho, ISIS News 11/12, October 2001, ISSN: 1474-1547 (print) ISSN: 1474-1814
16. "Common plant vector transfers genes to human cells" by Joe Cummins, ISIS News 11/12, October 2001, ISSN: 1474-1547 (print) ISSN: 1474-1814
17. "Biopesticide and Bioweapons" by Joe Cummins, ISIS Report, 23 October 2001
18. "Bt risks negligible?" by Mae-Wan Ho and Joe Cummins, ISIS Report, 12 November 2001
19. "Foot and mouth outbreak, GM vaccines & bio-war exercise" by Mae-Wan Ho, ISIS News 11/12, October 2001, ISSN: 1474-1547 (print) ISSN: 1474-1814
20. "Investigators say anthrax strain was modified" by Sanjay Bhatt and Meghan Meyer, October 10, Cox News Service, via

This article can be found on the I-SIS website at

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