Biological Weapons Warning; Genetic Spin-Off May Create Arms for `Ethnic Cleansing'

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Rapid advances in genetics could make terrifying "ethnic cleansing" weapons a reality within ten years, doctors have warned. Genetic biological weapons would be able to target particular ethnic groups by homing in on the molecular differences between, for example, blacks and whites or Arabs and Jews. The death-dealing viral or bacterial agent would be activated only in the presence of a specific set of genetic "markers". A built-in "clock" could even ensure that such a weapon switched itself off once the job was done - for instance after wiping out a city or region inhabited by the targeted ethnic group. It sounds like science fiction. But experts from the British Medical Association yesterday warned early versions of such weapons could exist in five years. Dr Vivienne Nathanson, the BMA's head of health policy research, said: "Getting rid of weapons once they are produced is very difficult. "We still have the chance to strengthen the ban on these weapons. We must do so now and we must make sure the ban is policed effectively." Ironically, the new terror weapons would be spin-offs from advances in medicine which will save countless lives. Two key developments were highlighted by the experts. One is the Human Genome Project, which aims to map the entire human genetic blueprint by 2003. The other is gene therapy, a technology still in its infancy, which uses "vectors" such as harmless viruses to carry corrective DNA into malfunctioning cells. …