GENTECH archive


Genetically manipulated weapons content "might" be possible.

I'm still dubious about the idea of some master-group immunity against
a bio-weapon which will affect some members of the human-species and not

But throwing money at scientists to work on the possibility is all it
takes; we'll have a bio-Manhattan project and an experiment or two. 
Guardian (London) Friday January 22, 1999

Sarah Boseley on BMA concern about a terrifying side-effect of the fight
against disease

Genetic research, the bright hope in the medical world's battle against
disease, will also open the door to new and terrifying biological weapons,
doctors warned yesterday.

The British Medical Association called for urgent action and warned
scientists to be vigilant to prevent terrorists putting their work to
belligerent use.

Genetic advances will make it possible to design weapons that would kill
only people of specific ethnic groups.

Biological weapons have not been widely used in the past partly because of
their lack of discrimination. But biotechnology is inadvertently
overcoming that problem.

Scientists are making great progress in identifying the human genetic
code. A crucial part of the process involves finding the differences
between certain groups that explain why, for example, only people of
certain ethnic origin suffer from sickle cell anaemia. Their work is
offering tantalising clues and potential therapies for diseases such as
cystic fibrosis.

Yesterday BMA doctors warned in a report called Biotechnology, Weapons and
Humanity that such work could be perverted to develop "weapons which may
become a major threat to the existence of Homo sapiens, and a development
of biotechnology which perverts the humanitarian nature of biomedical

"It is all the more frightening that medical professionals may contribute,
willingly or unwittingly, to the development of new, potent weapons. This
potential for malign use of biomedical knowledge also places
responsibility on doctors and scientists to protect the integrity of their

It is possible that a bomb containing perhaps anthrax or the plague could
be tailored so that the virus would only become active when it identified
a certain group of genes - indicating membership of a certain ethnic group
- in the infected person.

Fighting between ethnic groups remains a feature of war. The Serbs are
fighting ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. Iraqi forces did not hesitate to use
chemical weapons against Kurds in the country's north-east.

The Aum Shinrikyo sect released sarin nerve gas in the Tokyo underground
in 1995. There is evidence that they investigated anthrax as an
alternative and were interested in genetic engineering.

Vivienne Nathanson, the head of health policy research at the BMA, said
the situation was urgent. "It is important to emphasise that we are
talking about technology and information that is becoming available now
and will be available within the next few years. We have a window of
opportunity before weapons can be realistically manufactured."

The BMA doctors, who have sent their report to Robin Cook, the Foreign
Secretary, are calling for the strengthening of the Biological and Toxin
Weapons Convention, which was signed in 1972 but has been flouted by some
of its most powerful members. There is evidence that Russia has been
investigating the possible use of smallpox, which has been officially

"This is not a theoretical problem," said Professor Malcolm Dando of the
department of peace studies at Bradford University. "There is recent
evidence of an Iraqi biological weapons programme, recent evidence of a
massive biological weapons programme in the Soviet Union and that the
apartheid regime in South Africa had biological weapons. We don't want to
maintain the existing controls, but strengthen them considerably."

A spokesman for the Foreign Office said that it is generally accepted that
the biological weapons convention has no teeth because there are no
requirements for the 141 signatory states to allow inspections. This is
not the case with the Chemical Weapons Convention, which is thought, with
obvious exceptions, to work well.

Britain is now at the forefront of an international effort to strengthen
the 1972 agreement. Talks are going on at the Conference on Disarmament in
Geneva in the hope that a draft protocol might be agreed, which ministers
hope may be signed in Britain.


Apartheid era provided ideal environment for programme, reports David

In South Africa even Archbishop Desmond Tutu's Truth Commission was cowed
by the secrecy surrounding chemical and biological weapons, agreeing to
special arrangements when the subject was discussed at the otherwise
public hearings.

The concern was to prevent the proliferation of such technology.

The land of apartheid, it emerged, had been an ideal place for
experimentation, with a large non-human primate population and few

International pharmaceutical companies invested heavily. This attracted
the interest of the security services and Wouter Basson, personal
cardiologist to the then president, P. W. Botha, and representative of the

Under Dr Basson's direction the weapons research programme at Roodeplaat
laboratory became one of the most sophisticated in the world.

Interest seemed to centre on bacteria which would attack only blacks, and
a riot-control gas - to be made from hallucinogens including marijuana -
which would persuade mobs to make love, not war.

Dr Basson managed to put off his testimony to the Truth Commission until
its mandate expired and, as a result, was not fully questioned about the
extent of the South African programme. From what did emerge, it appeared
that much of their effort was devoted to the development of personal
assassination weapons, such as a poison which would deliver a seemingly
"natural" heart attack.

The only evidence of the use of a chemical or biological agent as a
battlefield weapon was the mysterious deaths of a group of Mozambican
soldiers near the South African border. A UN scientific expedition failed
to discover what had been used to kill them.

But it is clear from evidence gathered by the Truth Commission that Dr
Basson was regarded as an important figure by foreign governments. He and
his associates were found to have travelled widely, gaining access to
information on the chemical and biological weapons programmes of the
United States, Taiwan, Israel and Germany. They also had apparently
important contacts in Belgium and Croatia.

The British and American security services appear to have been concerned
that, with the approach of majority rule in the early 1990s, the programme
should not fall into the hands of the African National Congress.

** NOTICE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material
is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest
in receiving the included information for research and educational
purposes. **

INDEPENDENT - Jan 22, 1999

Germ warfare 'could target ethnic

By Charles Arthur, Technology Editor

Genetically engineered biological weapons capable of targeting particular
ethnic groups could become reality within 10 years, an expert panel warned

Viruses and other micro- organisms tailored to detect the differences in
the DNA of races could offer warmakers and terrorists of the future a new
means to carry out "ethnic cleansing", said the panel convened by the
British Medical Association (BMA).

Yet the scientific advances that would make such weapons possible will be
a spin-off of two areas of medicine with potentially huge benefits. The
first is the Human Genome Project, which aims to unravel the 100,000 or so
genes in human DNA by 2003. The other is the nascent technology of gene
therapy, which tries to repair defective genes in the body.

Launching a book entitled Biotechnology, Weapons and Humanity, members of
the panel insisted yesterday that they were not scaremongering. "We went
into this being very sceptical, with a position that 'It can't be done',"
said Professor Vivienne Nathanson, the BMA's head of health policy and
research. "But then after examining what is going on we decided that it
might be possible after all."

The idea of "genetic weapons", which the panel said are at present just a
theoretical possibility, added urgency to the need to add verification
procedures to the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention. Though first
signed in 1972 by the UK, US and Russia, and now having 140 signatory
nations, the BWC differs from other weapons conventions in having no
mechanisms for oversight, to ensure that signatories obey its rules.

Russia was among the countries that attempted to produce a genetically
enhanced version of the anthrax virus during the Cold War. The Aum
Shinrikyo religious terrorists in Japan also sought genetically to enhance
bacteria they had acquired, but failed.

** NOTICE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material
is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest
in receiving the included information for research and educational
purposes. **