SITE VISITS: Bioweapon Worries

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Science  23 Jun 2000:
Vol. 288, Issue 5474, pp. 2091
DOI: 10.1126/science.288.5474.2091d

Biological weapons are big news these days, amid growing concern that “poor man's weapons” like anthrax or botulism toxin could fall into the hands of rogue states or lone terrorists. The United States is spending big money on everything from helping cities prepare for attacks to developing better vaccines. Meanwhile, officials try to decide if they should destroy the world's last smallpox stocks and fret over ending a shortage of anthrax vaccine for U.S. troops.

Whether you think the attention is hype or well-founded, you'll find a wealth of information about bioweapons on the Web. For a quick overview, visit this Frequently Asked Questions page (www.ocean.ic.net/ftp/doc/disaster/bio/biowfaq.html) sprinkled with quotes from articles and documents. Topics range from how biological weapons are defined—viruses, bacteria, and sometimes toxins used to cause harm—to experts' recent assessments and relevant books. Offering a deeper look is the Chemical and Biological Weapons Nonproliferation Project at the Stimson Center in Washington, D.C. Find out about countries that the experts believe have bioweapons—including the United States, North Korea, Israel, and Iraq—or peruse reports on topics such as international efforts to find work for scientists from Russia's former bioweapons labs. There's also a table of major agents, such as the bacterium Pasteurella tularensis; a dose of just 10 to 50 of the organisms can cause rabbit fever, which kills 30% of victims.

For more biological weapons links, see this list (www.virology.net/garryfavwebbw.html) of disarmament projects and Department of Defense sites, such as its controversial anthrax immunization program. You can also read the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention, still not ratified as countries wrangle over verification.

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