ABC News
SARS could be biological weapon: experts

Russian infectious disease experts say Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) may be a man-made biological weapon.
[...]
The virus, according to Academy of Medicine member Sergei Kolesnikov, is a cocktail of mumps and measles, whose mix could never appear in nature. "We can only get that in a laboratory," he told a conference in the Siberian city of Irkutsk, quoted by RIA Novosti news agency. It may have spread because of an "accidental leak" from a lab, he said.

Via Ben Hammersley

13 Comments

12 Monkeys anyone?

was just reading the Red Horseman last week and while talking with a friend we thought that this might be just the case. nature mutates but nothing like this for sure. the book is relevant because an arc of it deals with binary terrorism. it was a good read. cheers.

Yup. I'd be curious to see if they ever discover the host animal from which the SARS agent spread to humans.
It's interesting, if a bit mind-boggling, to think about which entities in the world stand to gain, and have the significant resources required, to create and spread such an organism in China.

This line of speculation strikes me as more than a little bit irresponsible, frankly.

We now know that the suspected SARS agent is, unusually large for a coronavirus and is in fact, "equidistant" in its genomic makeup from the known coronavirus strains - I think it's found naturally in cattle, turkeys, and rats, but each variant is genomically different. So on the face of it, it might seem as if this is something that had to be engineered, that it simply couldn't have evolved in the wild.

But while I would never say that such a contingency is flat-out impossible, I think leaping to an assertion that the SARS agent was synthesized is at present unsupportable.

What's more, the moment you've assumed that it's synthetic in origin, you've limned a scenario with an actor or actors responsible for death and suffering and a not-insignificant financial impact (just ask Cathay Pacific). In these pre-emptive days, that's a scenario that could lead directly to calls for military action, against whatever party is deemed "most likely" to have engineered the virus, even if no smoking gun is ever found. So we need to be very, very careful.

The fact is, bizarre mutations *do* occur in nature from time to time, even improbable ones. The Occam's Razor solution to this set of facts is to recognize that southern China is famously a crucible in which these mutations occur with improbable regularity, due to the area's unique historical, agricultural, alluvial, veterinary and human provenance, and that given this track record and in the absence of other facts, it's safe to assume that SARS is a 100% natural occurence.

Or, like they teach in medical school, when you hear the sound of distant hooves, don't assume it's zebras.

"Or, like they teach in medical school, when you hear the sound of distant hooves, don't assume it's zebras."

Likewise, I wouldn't say it's safe to assume that SARS is 100% natural when we don't have, as of now, a shred of conclusive evidence to support this. The fact is that the Chinese Guangdong province has seen many outbreaks in previous years, the 1957 Asian flu, and the 1968 "HongKong Flu" both originated from Guangdong and claimed more than 1.5 mio lives worldwide. It seems to happen pretty often in this area. And you don't need to be a scientist to qualify this frequency as rather anomalous. I'm no expert here, but I wouldn't bet my shirt on the area's "unique" features as an explanation: you can find many countries, many places where animals and men mingle, where it's humid etc etc...

Several countries around the world have carried, or are carrying biological research programs, and not only for medical purposes. Some countries even performed tests on their own people to determine the effects of such biological agents. Even the US and the former USSR have done so in the past. I think it’s fair to assume that several countries are still carrying biological research, biological tests and, as such, are not immunized to potential or intentional “leaks”.

Don't want to rant but I guess my point is simply: we shouldn't assume too soon too fast that SARS is natural when there's a probability that it's man-made. After all no one seem to clearly understand this thing. And governments are not to trust in this: they have done very very very naughty things in the past.

This reminds me of an episode of Nova where a marine biologist tried to warn the French government of an unnatural predator...a killer algae. No one would believe him, thinking it's natural. It turned out to be from aquariums. They came out with a superpoisonous algae that looks like seaweed and can survive in an aquarium and look natural, since they couldn't get regular seaweed to survive in an aquarium. It is now invading the sea and it doesn't look like much can be done about it...it has no predators because it is toxic...but it's like a weed, overtakes all the resources and squeezes out all other seaweed around it. This seaweed feeds the fish...so the fish leave or die..

I'm not saying anything about what SARS is, I don't know, but it did remind me of that episode. Check it out here:

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/algae/

Olivier, I would be a fool if I weren't open to the *possibility* of the SARS agent having been synthesized, but I think *probability* is laying it on a bit thick, don't you?

Or maybe my hackles are raised, having been through something much like this debate (but far longer & more acrimonious) with certain of my former ACT/UP comrades, circa '91/'92. You know the line they were peddling: "HIV isn't AIDS/HIV was engineered by the CIA to kill blacks," and so forth. That position literally killed people.

Adam,

I guess it's kind of off-topic, but yeah I heard about this "AIDS is a man-made population control device" speculation. Just out of curiosity, when you say "That position literally killed people." what exactly do you mean? People fought for this idea and were killed for it??

Historically, the belief that HIV is unrelated to AIDS killed people in at least the following ways:

- Following from the belief that HIV transmission per se was irrelevant to seroconversion, failure to take measures to block HIV transmission (condoms, etc.);

- Following from the belief that viral load of HIV was irrelevant to overall outcomes, failure to begin or continue HIV-specific courses of treatment;

- Similarly, wasting critical resources (time, money, energy and hope) pursuing treatment modalities predicated on insupportable suppositions, i.e. "AIDS is an environmental sensitivity syndrome," "AIDS is merely untreated tertiary syphilis," "AIDS is identical with chronic fatigue syndrome," etc.

I have seen bad ideas kill people. Those inclined to a certain stream of Darwinism might say that this is the way evolution works. I prefer to believe that information is power.

I see, in some of the wilder suppositions regarding SARS, a sort of replay of history as farce. These conspiracy theories strike me as our human egotism, an egotism that wants to assert that if we die, it has to be due to intention and agency, it can't merely be a dumb, blind statistical accident of nature.

This is what happens in China when people live in proximity to animals. Viruses will mutate and eventually cross the species barrier.

It's only by sheer luck that scientists identified and found a solution to H5N1 bird flu strain of influenza, thus averting a major crisis. The solution was inelegant but effective: kill every single chicken, goose and duck in Hong Kong.

As yet, and thankfully, the virus has not mutated to airborne form, nor does it transmit human-to-human. Yet. If it ever does, it'll make SARS look like nothing worse than a cold.

It's possible therefore to conclude that this new coronavirus virus might well be another case of species-jump.

But until there is evidence—good, hard evidence—then I just don't buy the idea that someone cooked this one up in a lab.

After seeing that the CDC release the genome for SARS, I ran the genome through a standard word-frequency analysis. The SARS genome has a high degree of variablilty and is non-repetitious in nature, as you would expect an efficiently compressed set of instructions would be. However there are 8 sets of 10 nucleotide groupings that repeat exactly twice.


#1 GTCTTGTTTG - line 3501 column 1, line 19901 column 2

#2 TGTTCCTTTT - line 3001 column 4, line 14351 column 4

#3 GGTGACGGCA - line 25751 column 4, line 28401 column 2

#4 TGCCAAGAAA - line 19851 column 3, line 1001 column 5

#5 TGTTGTCTGT - line 13151 column 3, line 16251 column 5

#6 TTAGAGTAGA - line 11801 column 4, line 13651 column 4

#7 TTACTGGTTA - line 3251 column 4, line 16701 column 2

#8 CTTGGTATTA - line 22151 column 1, line 11001 column 5

As a matter of course I have done Google searched on each of these sequences.


Interestingly each and every one of these sequences occurs in a known human infectious virus or parasite.


Google Results for #1 "GTCTTGTTTG"
=========================================================================
http://hpv-web.lanl.gov/stdgen/virus/hpv/compendium/htdocs/COMPENDIUM_PDF/94PDF/1/sm1f.pdf
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
LOCUS HPV3 7820 bp ds-DNA VRL 04-OCT-1993
DEFINITION Human papillomavirus type 3 (HPV-3), complete genome.
ACCESSION X74462
SOURCE Human papillomavirus type 3 DNA.
REFERENCE 1 (bases 1 to 7820)
AUTHORS Delius,H. and Hofmann,B.
TITLE Primer-directed sequencing of human papillomavirus types
JOURNAL Curr. Top. Microbiol. Immunol. 186, 13-31 (1994)
REFERENCE 2 (bases 1 to 7820)
AUTHORS Delius,H.
TITLE Direct Submission
=========================================================================
http://www.grace.se/~shbioinfo99/emad/blast.txt
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
LOCUS AC044810 194297 bp DNA linear PRI 23-JAN-2002
DEFINITION Homo sapiens chromosome 11, clone RP11-494M8, complete sequence.
ACCESSION AC044810
VERSION AC044810.7 GI:18266660
KEYWORDS HTG.
SOURCE Homo sapiens.
ORGANISM Homo sapiens
Eukaryota; Metazoa; Chordata; Craniata; Vertebrata; Euteleostomi;
Mammalia; Eutheria; Primates; Catarrhini; Hominidae; Homo.
REFERENCE 1 (bases 1 to 194297)
AUTHORS Birren,B., Linton,L., Nusbaum,C. and Lander,E.
TITLE Homo sapiens chromosome 11, clone RP11-494M8
JOURNAL Unpublished
REFERENCE 2 (bases 1 to 194297)
=========================================================================








After seeing that the CDC release the genome for SARS, I ran the genome through a standard word-frequency analysis. The SARS genome has a high degree of variablilty and is non-repetitious in nature, as you would expect an efficiently compressed set of instructions would be. However there are 8 sets of 10 nucleotide groupings that repeat exactly twice.


#1 GTCTTGTTTG - line 3501 column 1, line 19901 column 2

#2 TGTTCCTTTT - line 3001 column 4, line 14351 column 4

#3 GGTGACGGCA - line 25751 column 4, line 28401 column 2

#4 TGCCAAGAAA - line 19851 column 3, line 1001 column 5

#5 TGTTGTCTGT - line 13151 column 3, line 16251 column 5

#6 TTAGAGTAGA - line 11801 column 4, line 13651 column 4

#7 TTACTGGTTA - line 3251 column 4, line 16701 column 2

#8 CTTGGTATTA - line 22151 column 1, line 11001 column 5

As a matter of course I have done Google searches on each of these sequences.


Interestingly each and every one of these sequences occurs in a known human infectious virus, parasite, or in the human genome itself.


Google Results for #1 "GTCTTGTTTG"
=========================================================================
http://hpv-web.lanl.gov/stdgen/virus/hpv/compendium/htdocs/COMPENDIUM_PDF/94PDF/1/sm1f.pdf
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
LOCUS HPV3 7820 bp ds-DNA VRL 04-OCT-1993
DEFINITION Human papillomavirus type 3 (HPV-3), complete genome.
ACCESSION X74462
SOURCE Human papillomavirus type 3 DNA.
REFERENCE 1 (bases 1 to 7820)
AUTHORS Delius,H. and Hofmann,B.
TITLE Primer-directed sequencing of human papillomavirus types
JOURNAL Curr. Top. Microbiol. Immunol. 186, 13-31 (1994)
REFERENCE 2 (bases 1 to 7820)
AUTHORS Delius,H.
TITLE Direct Submission
=========================================================================
http://www.grace.se/~shbioinfo99/emad/blast.txt
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
LOCUS AC044810 194297 bp DNA linear PRI 23-JAN-2002
DEFINITION Homo sapiens chromosome 11, clone RP11-494M8, complete sequence.
ACCESSION AC044810
VERSION AC044810.7 GI:18266660
KEYWORDS HTG.
SOURCE Homo sapiens.
ORGANISM Homo sapiens
Eukaryota; Metazoa; Chordata; Craniata; Vertebrata; Euteleostomi;
Mammalia; Eutheria; Primates; Catarrhini; Hominidae; Homo.
REFERENCE 1 (bases 1 to 194297)
AUTHORS Birren,B., Linton,L., Nusbaum,C. and Lander,E.
TITLE Homo sapiens chromosome 11, clone RP11-494M8
JOURNAL Unpublished
REFERENCE 2 (bases 1 to 194297)
=========================================================================








AIDS WAS ENGINEERED BY THE USA. SINCE CHINA HAS THE TERRIBLE SARS DISEASE, IT WILL ALSO INFECT IT'S NEIGHBOR NORTH KOREA. THE USA PLANS TO DESTROY NORTH KOREA'S ECONOMY BY THE SARS VIRUS. THATS WHY THE HOLD OFF TALKS OF THEIR NUCLEAR ARMS TO SEE WHAT PROGRESS THEIR VIRUS MADE IN ASIA.

Leave a comment

1 TrackBacks

Listed below are links to blogs that reference this entry: SARS could be biological weapon: experts.

TrackBack URL for this entry: http://joi.ito.com/MT-4.35-en/mt-tb.cgi/688

SARS man made? from Synapse Chronicles
April 14, 2003 8:33 AM

ABC (Aust.): SARS could be biological weapon: experts. I've had this thought a few times, but wrote it off as paranoia. Note the big "could" - the text of the story reveals the expert's has some reservations about his theory... Read More

About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries in the Business and the Economy category.

Books is the previous category.

Computer and Network Risks is the next category.

Find recent content on the main index.

Monthly Archives