A National Research Council expert panel is urging scientists to pursue new, reliable methods for distinguishing biological attacks from other outbreaks.
“In the event of a suspected biological attack, leaders would have questions about the identity and source of the biological threat,” says a report released on Friday by the influential federal advisory body. “Forensic science can help answer these questions, and it is essential that the answers be reliable.”
“Microbial forensics” is still a young field, though, and any effort to develop reliable analytical techniques may depend on new gene-sequencing technologies to assess vast numbers of microorganisms in advance, according to the authors.
“Until recently there have been few systematic efforts to collect and describe the microbes living in soil, seawater, freshwater lakes and streams, on plants, and even commensally in the guts or other surfaces of humans and other animals,” they wrote in the report.
The panel said that such “baseline” knowledge may prove crucial to determining whether viruses or bacteria in a disease outbreak are significantly different from what is normal for their environment. That information, in turn, could aid in assessing “whether the presence of that pathogen is natural or the result of a deliberate or inadvertent release,” according to the report.
The authors warned, though, that collecting such “metagenomic” data would require a major global effort.
“Formal international scientific collaborations will need to be created to ensure that technological resources are accessible to all nations, including developing countries that currently lack such resources, and that funding can be leveraged better,” the findings state. “This is a high-priority need for the research and funding agendas both inside and outside the United States that requires a coordinated effort on an international scale.”
The National Research Council expert panel prepared its findings in consultation with the British Royal Society, the Croatian Academy of Science and Arts and the International Union of Microbiological Societies.
What We're Following See More »
Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor and Democratic National Committee chair, announced he's pulling out of the running to regain the chairman's post. Dean "announced in a pre-recorded video to a conference of state Democratic chairs that he would step aside to allow for a new face to lead the party as it seeks to rebuild."
"Once again, businessman and philanthropist David M. Rubenstein has come through for the National Park Service. This time, he's pledged funding needed to modernize the Washington Monument's elevator-- but the monument will remain closed until 2019 while repairs and improvements are underway. Rubenstein's donation of between $2-3 million, announced Friday, will correct those ongoing elevator issues, which have shuttered the monument since August 17."
The National Defense Authorization Act passed the House this morning by a 375-34 vote. The bill, which heads to the Senate next week for final consideration, would fund the military to the tune of $618.7 billion, "about $3.2 billion more than the president requested for fiscal 2017. ... The White House has issued a veto threat on both the House and Senate-passed versions of the bill, but has not yet said if it will sign the compromise bill released by the conference committee this week."
Bill Schuette, Michigan's attorney general, has filed a lawsuit on behalf of the state to halt the recount of the state's voting results. The recount was elected by Green Party candidate Jill Stein. Schuette says the recount shouldn't occur because Stein cited no evidence of voter fraud or tabulation error.
"Republicans have elected Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) the next chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee. Walden defeated Reps. John Shimkus (R-IL) and Joe Barton (R-TX), the former committee chairman, in the race for the gavel" to succeed Michgan's Fred Upton.