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Biotechnology on the lead

Public health experts have stated that Biotechnology will provide the most effective defence against bioterrorism.

The completion of the human genome project, and developments in understanding of diseases like anthrax and botulism, will help in developing tests and vaccines that will protect society against bioterrorist attacks - as well as natural epidemics.// The annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) heard from Colonel Dick Collins, head of the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases. He said a release of anthrax bacteria near a city of half a million people would cause up to 93,000 deaths within a week.

Part of the problem would be identifying anthrax as the cause of death, however. Dr Craig Hunter, CEO of Celera Genomics, which has just published a version of the human DNA sequence, said new advances in biotechnology could speed up the process of identifying the nature of any attack from several days to just a few hours. "The way people have detected bacteria in the past is that they have grown them, to see what they look like, smell like, what properties they have," he said. "But with knowledge about the genetic code, we can multiply the amount of DNA in a specific species, so if it's smallpox, if it's meningitis, if it's anthrax, we can find it in a very precise fashion."This could prevent massive casualties, Dr Hunter said.

Public health expert Dr Margaret Hamburg said lethal agents such as botulism, anthrax and bubonic plague could be purchased illegally over the internet, and might be more appealing to a would-be terrorist than conventional weapons. "I think there's reason to think that biological weapons are going to be increasingly attractive," she said. "I think that they're definitely cheaper, probably easier to get hold of, they're easier to conceal, there is information about them available on the internet and through other sources, and they are terrifyi
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