The particles generated by cosmic rays that crash into the Earth’s atmosphere can reveal nuclear material hidden inside cars, trucks and ocean containers, because the cosmic particles are deflected by the dense nuclear material. A cube of uranium 3 inches wide that’s hidden in a truck could be spotted in a minute, by a detector developed by Los Alamos National Laboratory. And new genetic tests will allow us to detect exposure to biological weapons within a few hours, when treatment is much more effective, which will make them less attractive to terrorists.

Our cells react almost to bioweapons immediately after exposure, and the genetic combination is unique for each biological agent, so it can be instantly identified and the correct treatment applied. If victims of an anthrax attack are identified within 36 hours of exposure, they have a 100% chance of survival, compared with only 50% if diagnosis takes place after three days. The identity of the bioweapon may also lead to the terrorists that used it.

“It would knock the bottom out of bioterrorism?they would have to go back to the old Semtex,” says virologist John Oxford. “If this technology can be applied to the huge natural killers of mankind like influenza, then it would be a really significant discovery. They’re on to a winner in every sense.”

Meanwhile, let’s keep protecting ourselves.

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