Below the headlines: CBW matters (7)

(A weekly digest from the internet on chemical and biological warfare issues. Emphasis is on incidents and perspectives, but inclusion of an item does not equal endorsement or agreement with the contents. This issue covers items collected between 27 March – 2 April 2017.)

CBW disarmament

CBW armament

  • N.K. estimated to have some 1,000 drones: report (Yonhap, 29 March 2017):  A South Korean state-run think tank reported Wednesday North Korea is presumed to possess about 1,000 drones, raising concerns they could be used for airborne terror attacks.

Chemical warfare in Syria

  • Another chemical weapon attack on Hama this week (SAMS, 30 March 2017): Earlier today, around 6 am local time, different areas in Latamneh were hit by barrel bombs containing chemical weapons agents, injuring 166 civilians and 7 medical staff.
  • Air strikes hit hospital in Syria’s Hama last week: MSF (Ellen Francis, 31 March 2017): Air strikes struck a hospital in western Syria last week, killing two people, and there is evidence chemical weapons were used, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said on Friday. A Syrian military source said this week allegations that government forces were using chemical weapons were “devoid of truth”.

Other allegations of CBW use

  • Elyria man pleads guilty in Central Ohio anthrax hoax (Brad Dicken, 31 March 2017): The Elyria man who set fire to Lorain County Community College eight years ago pleaded guilty Wednesday to sending white powder he claimed to be anthrax to TV stations and the Ohio Correctional Institution Inspection Committee.

History

  • Base X: The Isle of Anthrax (Rebecca Kreston, 31 March 2017): Requisitioned from farmers, blitzed with anthrax-laden bombs in the 1940s, and made inhospitable to human and animal life for decades, the tiny Scottish island of Gruinard now serves as home to a flock of healthy sheep and a disreputable monument to the birth of biological warfare.

Dual-use research

  • Safety first with gene editing (Renee Wegrzyn, 22 March 2017): Darpa is leading the debate on biosecurity and biosafety with genome editors. The field of genome editing is experiencing explosive growth, facilitated primarily by the Crispr-Cas9 tool. Genome editors are quickly becoming indispensable, achieving a wide range of beneficial results with medical and industrial applications. However, these developments are outpacing related advances in biosafety and biosecurity that could help ensure these tools are used responsibly. As a result, genome editors create a dilemma: should we restrict their use in the face of uncertain threats, or embrace the potential they offer and hope that appropriate responses can be rallied if experiments bring serious risks to the fore?
  • Can a new model help governance keep up with synthetic biology? (Aaron Dy, 27 March 2017): Synthetic biology is moving at a rapid pace, and regulations will need to keep up to allow useful technologies to hit the market while maintaining a high standard of safety. Since most policymakers are not experts in all of the newest synthetic biology technologies, better analysis tools are needed to understand how to react. So two researchers, Christopher Cummings and Jennifer Kuzma, from North Carolina State University and Nanyang Technological University built a model to determine how to prepare for handling the regulation new synthetic biology products.

Medicine

  • WWII chemical-weapon antidote shows early promise as treatment for spinal cord injuries (Purdue News Service, 28 March 2017): A drug developed during World War II as an antidote for a chemical warfare agent has been found to be effective at suppressing a neurotoxin that worsens the pain and severity of spinal cord injuries, suggesting a new tool to treat the injuries.
  • An old drug with new potential: WWII chemical-weapon antidote shows early promise as treatment for spinal cord injuries (Purdue University, 28 March 2017): The neurotoxin, called acrolein, is produced within the body after nerve cells are damaged, increasing pain and triggering a cascade of biochemical events thought to worsen the injury’s severity. Researchers have now found that the drug, dimercaprol, removes the toxin by attacking certain chemical features of acrolein, neutralizing it for safe removal by the body. The findings, detailed in a paper published online this month in the Journal of Neurochemistry, involved research with cell cultures, laboratory animals and other experiments.

Preparedness

Industry news

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About JP Zanders

Jean Pascal Zanders (Belgium) has worked on questions of chemical and biological weapon (CBW) armament and disarmament since 1986. He was CBW Project Leader at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Director of the BioWeapons Prevention Project and Senior Research Fellow responsible for disarmament, arms control and non-proliferation questions at the European Union Institute for Security Studies. He now owns and runs The Trench.