GE Biological "Ethnic" Weapons Loom on the Horizon

Date: Thu, Jan 21, 1999
By Patricia Reaney
LONDON (Reuters) - Biological and genetic weapons designed to kill
specific ethnic or racial groups are no longer the stuff of science
fiction, British researchers said Thursday.
A designer plague that would only kill Serbs or a toxin engineered to
affect Israelis or Kurds does not exist yet but advances in biotechnology
and the mapping of all human genes could be misused to develop lethal
weapons within five to 10 years.
Dr Vivienne Nathanson, the head of health policy research at the
British Medical Association (BMA), said genetic information is already
being used to enhance biological weapons.
"It would be a tragedy if in 10 years time the world faces the reality
of genetically engineered and possibly genetically targeted weapons," she
told a news conference to launch a new book entitled "Biotechnology Weapons
and Humanity."
"It is not technology and information that is available today, but it
is becoming increasingly available. We do have a window of opportunity
before weapons of that type are manufactured to make sure we have effective
measures of prevention."
The book by Professor Malcolm Dando, of the Department of Peace
Studies at the University of Bradford in northern England, paints a
terrifying picture of the power of biological weapons.
The release of 220 pounds of anthrax spores from canisters planted in
a major city could wipe out up to three million people.
The book traces the history of the development and use of biological
weapons and warns that scientific knowledge has been exploited in the past
and is likely to be misused in the future unless international action is
"We believe biological weapons will become an increasing weapon in
terrorist activity," said Nathanson. "An ethnically targeted weapon becomes
more of a reality."
The designer weapon works on a similar principle to gene therapy but
instead of replacing faulty genes that don't work it exploits genetic
variations to target its victims.
For example, micro-organisms could be genetically engineered to attack
known receptor sites on the cell membrane or viruses could be targeted at
specific DNA sequences inside cells.
William Assche, the chairman of the BMA's board of science and
education, said the report is designed to raise public, medical and
political awareness about the dangers of biological weapons.
It urges the international community to strengthen the 1972 Biological
and Toxin Weapons Convention to improve verification procedures. It also
calls on doctors and scientists to protect the integrity of their work and
to monitor the potential use of genome mapping.
"Getting rid of weapons once they are produced is very difficult.
Governments may be reluctant to give up weapons that the rest of the world
find unacceptable. Terrorists certainly will be," said Nathanson.
"We still have the chance to strengthen the ban on these weapons. We
must do so now and we must make sure the ban is policed effectively."