Researchers at the Institute for Genome Sciences at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and collaborators at the FBI, the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases and Northern Arizona University have published the first scientific paper based on their investigation into the anthrax attacks of 2001. The case was groundbreaking in its use of genomics and microbiology in a criminal investigation. More than 20 people contracted anthrax from Bacillus anthracis spores mailed through the U.S. Postal Service in 2001, and five people died as a result of the attacks. Research scientists from the Institute for Genome Sciences played a key role in the investigation known as Amerithrax. The work is a pioneering advance in the new field known as microbial forensics, a science that would likely play a key role in the investigations of any future bioterror attacks. The paper was published online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The paper describes how the Institute for Genome Sciences faculty and collaborators from the FBI found that the anthrax samples used in all the attacks were genetically identical. Later, another group of scientists also including Institute for Genome Sciences faculty would trace the anthrax spore used in the letters back to a flask of Bacillus anthracis and several samples taken from that flask. The primary custodian of the flask was Bruce Ivins, Ph.D., a scientist at a U.S. Army biodefense laboratory in Maryland. With this key investigative lead from the scientific team, the FBI used additional police work to conclude that Dr. Ivins was the perpetrator of the mail attacks. Dr. Ivins killed himself before the case could go to court. The FBI has since closed the Amerithrax investigation.
"This paper and the Amerithrax investigation really marked the beginning of a new approach for the science we call forensic genomics," says senior author Jacques Ravel, Ph.
|Contact: Karen Robinson|
University of Maryland Medical Center