Expert Calls for Strong Biodefence Programme

DUBAI — While pathogens and toxins can be converted to bioweapons and used to commit bioterrorism and biocrime, a strong biodefence programme is needed, according to an American professor here.

Prof. Bruce Budowle, Executive Director of the Institute of Investigative Genetics, University of North Texas, USA, said that one aspect of biodefense is the use of forensic science to assist in developing investigative leads and in identifying perpetrators of such acts.

Citing the anthrax envelope sample found in a Tokyo subway, as well as the serine gas and plague used in biocrime, Prof. Budowle said a sub-field of forensic science — microbial forensics — has been created.

“Its focus is on characterisation of evidence from a bioterrorism act, biocrime, hoax or an inadvertent release.

Bioweapons are not easy to discover or prevent. Therefore, they need swift and mobile biological labs,” Prof. Budowle told the audience on Tuesday in the second session of the ‘Meeting the Forensic Challenges of the 21st century conference, slated to end on Thursday.

Further in his ‘Forensic science meeting the challenges of biodefense’ presentation, Prof. Budowle said that forensic microbiological investigations are essentially the same as any other forensic investigationregarding processing.

“They involve crime scene(s) investigation, chain of custody practices, evidence collection, handling, and preservation, evidence shipping, analysis of evidence, interpretation of results, and court presentation,” he said.

Prof. Budowle then said the forensic investigation, in addition to collecting and analyzing traditional forensic evidence, will attempt to determine the etiology and identity of the casual agent, often in a similar fashion as in an epidemiologic investigation. However, for attribution, “Higher resolution characterisation is needed than may be applied for an epidemiologic investigation. The tools for attribution include genetic and non-genetic basedassays and informatics to attempt to determine the unique source of a sample or at least to eliminate somesources,” he said.

“In addition, chemical and physical assays may help determine the process used to prepare, store or disseminate the bioweapon, i.e. reverse engineering and systems analysis.”

Prof. Budowle then indicated that an effective microbial forensic programme requires the development and/or validation of all aspects of the forensic investigative process, from sample collection to interpretation of results.

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