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VIRUS BUILT FROM SCRATCH

Scientists, lead by the genome sequencing pioneer Craig Venter, "have built a virus from scratch in only two weeks," Nature reports. "It is the second virus to be synthesized from commercially available ingredients. The first - a poliovirus completed by Eckard Wimmer and his colleagues in 2002 - took three years to make."Defense Tech reader JB says Venter's breakthrough shows that, not too long from now, "it will be a trivial exercise for a rogue government or other moderately scientifically sophisticated group to create modified organisms for use as terror weapons. The genomes of various pathogens are already known, and modification for increased virulence or communicability, or even vaccine/drug resistance, would be easily achievable with some targeted experimentation."The CIA, apparently, shared JB's gloomy views."Growing understanding of the complex biochemical pathways that underlie life processes has the potential to enable a class of new, more virulent biological agents engineered to attack distinct biochemical pathways and elicit specific effects," reads a CIA report, "The Darker Bioweapons Future."A few weeks ago, JB and Barbara Hatch Rosenberg form the Federation of American Scientists engaged in a semi-civil throwdown here at Defense Tech over the bioterror threat.

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