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Australia's First Bioterrorism Attack

Now, I never condone biological warfare. It's bad ju ju and I am morally opposed to it, especially as a microbiologist. That being said however...

I find the 'attack' on the Indonesian embassy kind of amusing, in a black humour kind of way. I mean, really, I just know how sensationalised this event is going to be, and how much work is is practically going to guarantee me and people like me in the future... and it's all due to that silly girl (silly for getting caught or silly for going about the trial the way she did) Schappelle oh-what-an-odd-name-I-have Corby.

I'm not too fussed about the incident itself because, quite frankly, I'm pretty sure that the "Bacillus-type bacteral powder" is going to turn out to not be anthrax. And even if it were anthrax, the chances of it making anyone ill are pretty darn slim, particularly because I'm sure anyone who came in contact with it is already on antibiotics and thus, largely, completely protected from disease.

I mean, really, Bacillus is so dull, old-school, and really not as scary as people make out. And none-too-hard to grow, either. Cook some brown rice, then leave it in a warm place for a few days. Boom - you have yourself some Bacillus which can make people very, very sick (if they eat it). Welcome to the world of bioterrorism.

This is what people don't seem to understand. Bacteria cover everything. EVERYTHING. That whole thing about washing your hands ater you go to the bathroom? Within a couple of hours your hands are going to be covered with bacteria from your unmentionables anyway, because unless you autoclaved your hands (not advisable), you're going to leave viable bacteria/spores behind which will just grow back. Did you know that one of the nastiest lower-respiratory tract disease causing bugs is found naturally in the nose?

I mean, these people (who ever they are) aren't even *trying*. That and they have doomed the little miss Corby to certain further imprisonment - no government these days buckles under such petty threats. And what is more petty that a Bacillus?! (Well, maybe E. coli, I suppose...) For the love of Koch, Australia is host to one of the most unpleasant non-heamorrhagic visuses I have ever heard of from a readily easily-accessable source - much easier than growing enough Bacillus spores to make a frightening amount of 'white powder of biological origin'.

I am full of contempt for the entire situation. Although, I tip my hat to the emergency responce teams; they seem to have done an excellent job.


Jun. 2nd, 2005 11:57 pm (UTC)
The problems with those genetic modifications (ie, sticking the gene for the botulism toxin in E. coli) will always keep them from being used for bioterrorism/warefare, and I'll tell you why (because I am a smart-ass).

First of all, it's not normally one gene but two that you need to clone in (the gene for the protein itself, plus the gene that makes the protein fold properly). Second of all, you need to whack in a promoter gene of some description, something which triggers the bacteria to make the protein (for example, when it comes in contact with a human protein, usually depending on where you think the bacteria will set up shop - a lung protein if it is to be inhaled, for example). Thirdly, you need to put in a selective agent, like an antibiotic resistance gene, with which you can select for your bugs which have the toxin genes in them.

That's a whole lot of genes. The thing about bacteria is that they can only physically fit so much DNA inside. The other thing is that all of those gene splices are quite hard to do. And, finally, once you *do* manage to make this bug, even if it does manage to infect a host (ie, your target human), unless there is any selective pressure, the bacteria will lose any extraneous genes (because that's what bacteria do - producing stuff like proteins takes a whole lot of energy and effort, and if they don't need to, they won't do it), including you're carefully designed mutant.

So, you know, it's not quite as easy as Hollywood says it is. :)
Jun. 3rd, 2005 12:21 am (UTC)
Hollywood? Can't say I was going off Hollywood, more like final year molecular biology, where I actually did those transforms (sans botox, I think we put HRP in there to get a colour from an indicator) and transfections. Sure it's not straightforward but it is relatively easy. IMHO synthesising methylamphetamine would be harder benchwork. I think we also linked the plasmid so it would be induced and selected for by galactose rather than an antibiotic.

Memory lane...10 years ago now....I can imagine things haven't got anything but easier.

I must admit I didn't realise that "botox" required a Chaperonin to help it fold. Those *are* big and nasty and I wouldn't want to be trying to mess with those bastards. So I'd select a different toxin that didn't require help. (Hehehehe how about a prion? Hehehehe!)

Plasmid design is not really that difficult for someone with a little training and an understanding of restriction sites etc and some free software off the web.

Sure the old addage applies; wild-type is more robust. And you've got to supply some selection pressure. If we sat and *really* thought about it we could probably make a strain that *would* out-compete wild-type in a particular environment that was more important for bio-warfare than for survival of wild-type. We'd just have to think, research and experiment...now what do we get paid to do again?

Heck, lets stick with virus shall we? That's sounding easier...