Without meaning to, Australian scientists have created a virus that could lead to the most devastating bioweapon ever devised.
The scientists were trying to create a mouse contraceptive vaccine to use for pest control. They worked with mousepox, with doesn?t affect humans but is related to the smallpox virus. "It?s a good way to show how to alter smallpox to make it more virulent," says Ken Alibek, of the Soviet germ warfare program.
D.A. Henderson, director of the Center for Civilian Biodefense Studies at Johns Hopkins University points out that information that can be used for making dangerous microorganisms is regularly published in scientific journals. "I can?t for the life of me figure out how we are going to deal with this," he says.
The engineered virus is unusually resistant to preventative measures. A vaccination developed by the Australian scientists worked in only half the mice that were exposed to the new virus.
The researchers checked with the Australian Department of Defense before publishing their findings. "We wanted to warn the general population that this potentially dangerous technology is available," said Ron Jackson, one of the developers of the virus.
It could be that viral bioweapons will be prove more devastating, and far easier to produce, than nuclear missiles.
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