DNA for Smallpox Virus Available on the Internet

Daily Mail (London), June 15, 2006 | Go to article overview

DNA for Smallpox Virus Available on the Internet


Byline: JULIE WHELDON

URGENT calls have been made for the law to be changed to stop ingredients for deadly biological weapons being bought over the Internet.

A shocking investigation has exposed how elements of the deadly smallpox virus can be purchased online then delivered through the post in Britain.

It is feared terrorists could use the same tactics to create a biological weapon.

Concern over the potential risk to public health last night prompted calls for the law to be changed to close current loopholes.

Smallpox is one of the biggest killers in history, having claimed at least 300million lives in the 20th century alone.

The virus was eradicated in 1977 but samples of it still exist in guarded laboratories in Russia and the U.S.

But now it has emerged that individuals posing as scientists can readily obtain sequences of smallpox DNA via the Internet . The Guardian newspaper ordered a 78-letter sequence of smallpox DNA - with three modifications to make it harmless - from VH Bio Ltd of Gateshead, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, a company that supplies microbiology products.

The newspaper provided the name of a made-up company and provided only a residential address and mobile phone number.

VH Bio Ltd, queried the address but was told the company was moving offices and wanted to ensure it received the package.

Apparently satisfied, it put the vial containing the sequence in the post and it was delivered by Royal Mail.

The full genome for smallpox is 185,000 letters long and so a terrorist would need to order a whole string of sequences to put them together to make the virus.

Although not a task that could be performed by one person acting alone, a wellfunded

terrorist organisation

with access to a lab and PhDlevel personnel could do it. …

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DNA for Smallpox Virus Available on the Internet
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