Mike Sussman sussman at
Fri May 10 08:33:16 EST 1996

In article <4msvcu$28p at> Mark Pallen <m.pallen at> writes:
>From: Mark Pallen <m.pallen at>
>Subject: Re: NEW CLOSTRIDIUM BOTULINUM and terrorism
>Date: 9 May 1996 14:27:42 GMT

>OK, so, in this case, we are not seeing a terrorist fishing for info!;-) 

>But a thought has been bouncing around my head for some time now...

>It's this:

>The entire Marburg virus genome sequence  is already available via 
>28047&form=6&db=m&Dopt=r and 
>and smallpox is planned to be. If one were to synthesise the Marburg 
>genome as a set of overlapping oligos (say 1000 50-mers), assemble them 
>by PCR and then put a powerful promoter in front that would produce an 
>RNA transcript once inside a mammalian cell, would one be able to create 
>infectious material? I know that the minus strand of filoviruses is not 
>infectious, but what if one instead drove production of the plus strand?

>Is this scenario plausible? If it is at all plausible (leaving aside the 
>costs--50K dollars say for the oligos), then isn't it irresponsible 
>having this stuff in the databases  (the same argument applies to 
>bacterial toxin sequences)? Are attempts to download the Marburg 
>sequence monitored? If not, why not?

>And how come the US government worries so much about exporting PGP etc. 
>when anyone can download the sequences of Marburg, botulin toxin 
>etc.from a US server?! Shouldn't that count as a munitions export? :-)

>Dr Mark Pallen, Senior Lecturer in Medical Microbiology,
>St Bartholomew's Hospital Medical College, London, EC1A 7BE
>currently on a Research Leave Fellowship at Imperial College 
>Rm 502, Dept of Biochem, Imperial College, London, SW7 2AY
>email:m.pallen at  WWW:
>phone: day ++44(0)1715945254, eves ++44(0)1815057937, FAX 
>Author, Microbial Underground:
>"My country is the world and my religion is to do good..." 
>Thomas Paine
Although its easy to think up, its really not that easy to do.  Besides you 
really need to consider the need for therapies and the requirements for 
information in the form of nucleic acid sequences to produce them as the 
reasons for the widespread dissemination of this information.  You would 
probably  hire the terrorist that could actually carry out the scenario you 
describe in spite of his lack of morality, because he inevitably will 
published it in Nature or Science.  It is actually something that has only 
been done in a few labs, with similar viruses and is quite sophisticated.  I 
just can't see too many people spending thousands of dollars and 10s of years 
of their lives to carry out such a scheme.  It is the stuff of cartoons and 
adventure films. 

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