Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Microbial forensics: The next great forensic challenge

15.03.2005


Deliberately spreading disease among the enemy has been occasionally practiced over hundreds of years. But modern bioterrorism is more chilling than ever because of rapidly expanding knowledge about infectious diseases and biotoxins and their potential to wreak havoc in complex, interdependent societies. The nation is in the process of developing a strong microbial forensic program to attribute and prosecute such attacks, and perhaps deter them.



The opportunities and challenges facing the new field of microbial forensics will be presented at the 229th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society on March 13-17 in San Diego.

"It is imperative to establish robust microbial forensic capabilities, with the power of the methods, results, and interpretations well understood and defensible," said Randall S. Murch, associate director for research program development at Virginia Tech, formerly deputy director of the FBI’s Laboratory and Investigative Technology Divisions and a research staff member at the Institute for Defense Analysis. Murch created the FBI’s weapons of mass destruction forensic unit in 1996 and has been a leader in this area of our national response since then.


"An effective program requires relevant, exploitative, fully validated methods and uses in all aspects of the forensic investigative process," Murch said. "This ranges from sample collection to interpretation of results, while achieving full integration into investigation, prosecution, intelligence, and decision making. Since the results of a microbial forensics investigation could be used for either criminal prosecutions or those at the national level, we must be sure that the methods and results will be admissible in court, and must be accepted by senior government decision makers."

Murch and other scientists point to many challenges posed by bioterrorism, including that numerous pathogens exist in nature and do not necessarily require sophisticated expertise or technology to be weaponized; many methods could be used by adversaries to perpetrate an attack, from simple to complex; physicians may not diagnose early symptoms of disease if not warned to look for them, increasing risk and allowing adversaries to escape; effective treatments may not exist for many agents; numerous unprotected agricultural targets exist; and the availability of basic knowledge and biological equipment in hospitals, universities, industries, and from commercial sources. In addition, "A perpetrator can be long gone by the time a disease takes effect, and the original crime scene could be difficult to locate and link to suspects," Murch said.

Additionally, the biological and ecological complexity of most biothreat agents present forensic microbiologists with a number of significant analytical and interpretive challenges. "It is doubtful that any one single technique will be sufficient, but rather a ’multivariate approach’ will be required that is tailored to the threat encountered and situation to be addressed. In any case, the scientific and investigative processes must be closely coupled and mutually supportive," Murch said.

There have been numerous national responses to bioterrorism, depending upon the mission of an agency. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and others have identified and categorized biologic agents that potentially could be used as weapons based on the criteria of public health impact, ease of dissemination or transmission, requirements for public health preparedness, and social disruption. NIH has created eight national Bioinformatics Resource Centers to speed research on the target agents. Several National Academy studies have dealt with issues related to bioterrorism, life sciences, and security.

The Bioforensic Analysis Program, National Bioforensics Analysis Center, has also been created as part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and operates in partnership with the FBI. To help identify the most pressing gaps in the science and operation of microbial forensics, there was a meeting this past spring sponsored by DHS, with the results reported to the White House. The FBI-led Scientific Working Group on Microbial Genetics and Forensics has identified gaps requiring investments for research, development, and validation.

Input from the scientific community should be avidly sought, said Murch. "Our traditional system of robust scientific inquiry and peer review is essential to developing an effective national microbial forensic capability. At the same time, lessons learned from the traditional forensic community for comprehensive quality assurance guidelines should be adapted to build a base of acceptance, credibility. and reliability for addressing this next grand forensic challenge."

Murch will present the paper, "Biothreat agent forensics: Seeking attribution using an adaptive, integrated approach (ComSci 6)," at 11:30 a.m. Monday, March 14, in Convention Center room 25C.

The topic is also addressed in an article recently accepted for Applied and Environmental Microbiology, "Toward a System of Microbial Forensics: from Sample Collection to Interpretation of Evidence," by Bruce Budowle of the FBI, Steven E. Schutzer, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey; Michael S. Ascher, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LNL); Ronald M. Atlas, University of Louisville; James P. Burans, DHS; Ranajit Chakraborty, University of Cincinnati; John J. Dunn, Brookhaven National Laboratory; Claire M. Fraser, The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR); David R. Franz, Midwest Research Institute; Terrance J. Leighton, Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute; Stephen A. Morse, CDC; Murch; Jacques Ravel, TIGR; Daniel L. Rock Department of Agriculture, Orient, NY; Thomas R. Slezak and Stephan P. Velsko, LNL; Anne C. Walsh, New York State Department of Health,; and Ronald A. Walters, Intelligence Technology Innovation Center.

Susan Trulove | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.vt.edu

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht New catalyst controls activation of a carbon-hydrogen bond
21.11.2017 | Emory Health Sciences

nachricht The main switch
21.11.2017 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Nanoparticles help with malaria diagnosis – new rapid test in development

The WHO reports an estimated 429,000 malaria deaths each year. The disease mostly affects tropical and subtropical regions and in particular the African continent. The Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research ISC teamed up with the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology IME and the Institute of Tropical Medicine at the University of Tübingen for a new test method to detect malaria parasites in blood. The idea of the research project “NanoFRET” is to develop a highly sensitive and reliable rapid diagnostic test so that patient treatment can begin as early as possible.

Malaria is caused by parasites transmitted by mosquito bite. The most dangerous form of malaria is malaria tropica. Left untreated, it is fatal in most cases....

Im Focus: A “cosmic snake” reveals the structure of remote galaxies

The formation of stars in distant galaxies is still largely unexplored. For the first time, astron-omers at the University of Geneva have now been able to closely observe a star system six billion light-years away. In doing so, they are confirming earlier simulations made by the University of Zurich. One special effect is made possible by the multiple reflections of images that run through the cosmos like a snake.

Today, astronomers have a pretty accurate idea of how stars were formed in the recent cosmic past. But do these laws also apply to older galaxies? For around a...

Im Focus: Visual intelligence is not the same as IQ

Just because someone is smart and well-motivated doesn't mean he or she can learn the visual skills needed to excel at tasks like matching fingerprints, interpreting medical X-rays, keeping track of aircraft on radar displays or forensic face matching.

That is the implication of a new study which shows for the first time that there is a broad range of differences in people's visual ability and that these...

Im Focus: Novel Nano-CT device creates high-resolution 3D-X-rays of tiny velvet worm legs

Computer Tomography (CT) is a standard procedure in hospitals, but so far, the technology has not been suitable for imaging extremely small objects. In PNAS, a team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) describes a Nano-CT device that creates three-dimensional x-ray images at resolutions up to 100 nanometers. The first test application: Together with colleagues from the University of Kassel and Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht the researchers analyzed the locomotory system of a velvet worm.

During a CT analysis, the object under investigation is x-rayed and a detector measures the respective amount of radiation absorbed from various angles....

Im Focus: Researchers Develop Data Bus for Quantum Computer

The quantum world is fragile; error correction codes are needed to protect the information stored in a quantum object from the deteriorating effects of noise. Quantum physicists in Innsbruck have developed a protocol to pass quantum information between differently encoded building blocks of a future quantum computer, such as processors and memories. Scientists may use this protocol in the future to build a data bus for quantum computers. The researchers have published their work in the journal Nature Communications.

Future quantum computers will be able to solve problems where conventional computers fail today. We are still far away from any large-scale implementation,...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Ecology Across Borders: International conference brings together 1,500 ecologists

15.11.2017 | Event News

Road into laboratory: Users discuss biaxial fatigue-testing for car and truck wheel

15.11.2017 | Event News

#Berlin5GWeek: The right network for Industry 4.0

30.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Previous evidence of water on mars now identified as grainflows

21.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

NASA's James Webb Space Telescope completes final cryogenic testing

21.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

New catalyst controls activation of a carbon-hydrogen bond

21.11.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>