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Genomics, Vaccines, and Weaponization

Three former bioweaponers, Sergio Popov, Ken Alibeck, and Bill Patrick had different motivations for engaging in the development of biological weapons. Bill Patrick had much desire in the development of biological weapons for warfare because he believed that biological weapons are humane ways of dealing with the enemy. He also believed that biological weapons were better to use in warfare than the use of bombs or chemical weapons. Ken Alibeck and Sergio Popov engaged in the development of biological weapons, because it was the only duty they could have done at that time in the Soviet Union. Alibeck and Popov had little enthusiasm about the development of biological weapons, as they believed that biological weapons posed serious threats to the world (Nova, 2011).

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I had changed my views on the three bioweaponers after watching their interview with Kirk Wolfinger. Although I reckon the development of biological weapons to be an evil undertaking, some of the scientists were forced to engage in bioweaponry because of the circumstances. Ken Alibeck and Sergio Popov engaged in the development of biological weapons not because of their own desire, but due to being forced by circumstances to earn a living. However, Bill Patrick seems enthusiastic about the development of biological weapons out of his own passion.

Bill Patrick is the only bioweaponer in the interview who still holds the same sentiments and views about biological weapons as in the heydays of the development of biological weapons. Bill spent over thirty years at Fort Derricks Base for Biological Weapons in the United States and later went to work on microbe defenses (Nova, 2011). Bill believes that biological weapons are still a viable form of weapons to use against the enemy because they are more humane than other forms of weaponry because they just incapacitate the enemy but they do not damage infrastructure (Nova, 2011).

Sergio Popov, a former Soviet scientist on biological weapons, and Alibeck Ken, a former soviet bioweaponer, who fled to the United States after the collapse of the Soviet Union have different views nowadays than in the past. They both believe that the development of biological weapons was an evil undertaking, and they did not wish to engage in the process ever again (Nova, 2011).

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1992, The Russian president, Mikhail Gorbachev signed a decree that banned the development of biological weapons. Most of the stockpiles of biological weapons were destroyed and, there was a considerable downsizing of the biological weapons stockpiles held by the Soviet Union. However, doubts about whether Russia completely eliminated all stockpiles of biological weapons developed by the Soviet Union still exist (Jeane, 2005).

Many of the scientists involved in the development of the biological weapons in the Soviet Union have immigrated to other countries to offer other countries their skills. These scientists can be lured by rogue states in the world to offer their skills and knowledge for the development of biological weapons. This is something that should worry the world significantly. The United States has granted asylum to many of these scientists to avoid them being lured by rogue nations in the development of biological weapons (Christian, 2003).

Reverse vaccinology, a method of searching candidate vaccines for pathogens, has several steps. The first step is the sequencing of the genome of the pathogen which is under interest. After sequencing, several algorithms have been applied to identify the cell surfaces and protein secretions that can cause antibody response in a human host. The next step is the production of recombinant proteins in bacteria like E coli.

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The recombinant proteins are further purified and then used as immunogens in mice. The immune sera obtained from immunized mice are then collected, assayed and tested for the ability to bind to the surface of the antigen and their bactericidal activity. Furthermore, the vaccines are taken through a process of final evaluation before being tested in clinical trials.

Some letters containing highly infectious pores of dry powdered anthrax were sent to various locations in the United States via mail-in September 2001. After the anthrax attacks, hundreds of samples were taken from numerous facilities suspected to have become contaminated with the anthrax spores in the letters to determine the extent of contamination (National Academy of Sciences, 2011). The Center for Disease Control gathered over 125,000 samples after the anthrax attack. The strains of anthrax isolated from the letters, contaminated with anthrax, were identified and found to be related to the Ames strain of bacteria through genome sequencing and carbon fourteen dating (Lake, 2011).

DNA sequencing of anthrax isolated from some of the victims of the attack was done at the Institute Of Genomic Research in 2001. Carbon 14 dating of the samples of anthrax strains done at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in June 2002 established that the anthrax strains had been cultured two years before they were sent in mails (Lake, 2011).

The Institute Of Genomics Research and other biodefense experts also identified many mutations of the anthrax strains obtained from the letters. These mutations were identified through genome analysis and screening of over 1073 assays of the anthrax strains obtained from the contaminated letters by the FBI. After carrying out genomic analysis, The Federal Bureau of Investigation concluded that the strains of anthrax were related to an Ames strain of bacteria cultured at the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (Lake, 2011).

Weaponization means that alteration of the genetic structure of the organism to improve its virulence/disease causes ability and resistance to drugs for use in warfare. The weaponization of a biological agent means that the act of enhancing a biological weapon can be used as a weapon (Christian, 2003). A biological agent might be weaponized through manipulating or treatment in a way that improves its usefulness, as a weapon, such as making the biological agent more virulent, is easier to disseminate as an aerosol or make the biological agent more stable to the dissemination (Jeane,2005).

Dr. Fraser’s (2004) article, A Genomics Approach to Bio Defense Preparedness highlights the history of bioterrorism, and covers into the depth of how genomics influence the development of biological weapons and resist antibiotics and vaccines.The smallest genome that has been sequenced is that of mycoplasma genitalium G37 consisting of a genome of 0.58 mb. This bacteria causes urethritis and arthritis. The largest genome that has ever been sequenced is that of Psuoidenomas aeroginosa PAD1 that caused opportunistic infections with a genome of 6.26 mb. According to Jeane (2005), the size of genome in bacteria matters as the size of bacteria influences the virulence of bacteria and the resistance to drugs by bacteria.

As a professor in a new biotechnology department, I would identify whether new postdoctoral students are potential security risks through utilizing creativity and security strategies. I would utilize methods such as surveillance and background checks of the identity of the student to ensure that all that is done in the lab is accounted for and recorded. I can respect the privacy rights on my interview with students, but I would do profiling of the students to establish their true identities. Laboratory security measures, such as the installation of surveillance systems, would be implemented to ensure that activities done in the lab are recorded.

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I would minimize theft in the laboratory through effecting structures and procedures that allow for accountability where every scientist records what is used and carries out checks in exit points to minimize the risk of theft. Having non-foreign students in a laboratory does not eliminate theft and spying in laboratories. There is also a need to have good security structures in all laboratories at all times regardless of the composition of the staff.

Racial profiling has increased as a result of the many security threats that America faces. It is common for the police to stop and search minority races in America rather than stop and search the majority white races. Although times of increased threat to national security call for exceptional security measures, it is wrong to profile people according to their race for security reasons such measures infringe on the right to privacy and the notion of equality of races (Michele, 2004).

The proposed Hiking bill in New York is a racist bill that seeks to provide the police officers with the right to consider a person’s race or ethnicity when deciding whether to stop or search a suspect. Hiking bill is a racist bill that will lead to the increase in the cases of racial profiling against minority populations in the United States.

Reference List

Christian C. (2003). Biological weapons: An overview of threats and responses. California: Strategic and defense studies centre

Fraser C. (2004). A genomics based approach to bio-defense preparedness. Nature Reviews genetics. (5) 23-33.

Jeane G. (2005). Biological weapons: From the invention of state sponsored programs To contemporary bioterrorism. Columbia: Columbia University Press.

Lake E. (2011). Analyzing the anthrax attacks. Web.

Michele M. (2004). Racial profiling a mater of survival. Web.

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National Academy of Sciences. (2011). Anthrax: a medical detective story. Washington: National academy of sciences.

Nova. (2011). Interviews with bio warriors. Web.

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