recommended reading

Bioterrorism Fear Led Scientists to Withhold Botulinum Toxin Info

anyaivanova/Shutterstock.com

Researchers have uncovered a new breed of Botulinum toxin, however, they are withholding certain information about the neurotoxin out of concern it could be misused by individuals seeking to develop a biological weapon, National Public Radio reported on Wednesday.

Botulinum toxin is produced by the bacterium, Clostridium botulinum, which is present in soil all over the world. The toxin in past decades was studied by governments for use as an aerially dispersed bio-weapon best-suited for use in an enclosed space or to poison food supplies. The Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo tried unsuccessfully to carry out botulism attacks in Tokyo in the 1990s. Though treatments are available for other forms of the deadly toxin, there is no cure available for the recently discovered version.

The new version was identified by Stephen Arnon and Jason Barash of the California Public Health Department. Information released by scientists online in the Journal of Infectious Diseasesintentionally was left incomplete.

"This is not the usual process for publishing manuscripts," said Massachusetts General Hospital infectious disease researcher David Hooper, who is an editor of the journal.

Typically, the journal would have researchers provide specifics on the genetic sequences that produce a pathogen. In this instance, though, the scientists decided it posed too great of a proliferation danger and the journal editors agreed with them. Once medical countermeasures are created to treat the new Botulinum toxin, the genetic details for it could be released.

"There was enough scientific importance that we did not want to delay the publication," Hooper said.

The incident shows how the scientific community is wrestling with how to judge the benefits and risks of publishing data that could be used for public good or to spread terror. In 2012, there was a serious debate within the community over the ethics of publishing specific details on how to render avian influenza into a form that could more easily be transmitted among mammals.

Stanford University microbiologist David Relman, who provided advice to the journal on the issue, said he thought the researchers behaved responsibly.

"I want to applaud the authors for acting in a way that I think was responsible and prudent," he said.

(Image via anyaivanova/Shutterstock.com)

Threatwatch Alert

Thousands of cyber attacks occur each day

See the latest threats

JOIN THE DISCUSSION

Close [ x ] More from Nextgov
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from Nextgov.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Modernizing IT for Mission Success

    Surveying Federal and Defense Leaders on Priorities and Challenges at the Tactical Edge

    Download
  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

    Download
  • Effective Ransomware Response

    This whitepaper provides an overview and understanding of ransomware and how to successfully combat it.

    Download
  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

    Download
  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.