What a cool 404 page!

avast ye! I be a mushroom with an eye patch.

naughty French word of the day – branleur. (Wanker)

Tomorrow is lovefest! I wonder if I can get the hippies to go? I might see ci and her family there!

From the New York Times

“Scientists reported yesterday that they had constructed a virus from scratch for the first time, synthesizing a live polio virus from chemicals and publicly available genetic information.”

What they did was this: they took a published genome sequence and had a commercial supplier chemically synthesize a series of short, overlapping bits of DNA identical to short chunks of this sequence, then pasted them all together to get an identical DNA copy of the original sequence, which they converted to RNA (as found in the virus) using commercially bought enzymes in a test tube. They then introduced the RNA to an extract made from tissue culture cells (again in a test tube) which translated the RNA to make viral proteins. The Proteins and the RNA spontaneously self-assemble to make viable virus which was then used to infect mice. The idea is pretty simple and molecular biologists do this sort of thing all the time. The difference is that no-one has yet made a working mammalian virus this way. It brings up some thorny issues.

“The work set off a debate over whether the same technique might be applied to other viruses.

“Could someone make a highly pathogenic virus like Ebola?” asked Dr. Robert A. Lamb, a professor at Northwestern University and president of the American Society for Virology. “Could you in fact make that in a rogue laboratory that doesn’t need more than two skilled workers? My feeling is you probably could.”

This isn’t the stuff of basement terrorists stirring up plagues in a bathtub, but it is apparently do-able on the (comparatively) cheap. The smallpox genome long since sequenced, this technique surely renders all attempts to destroy smallpox futile and meaningless, implications there are pretty serious. I imagine recreating smallpox from cowpox would be pretty easy to do, now, but I could be way off there.

I remember when Frank Herbert wrote “The White Plague” he did some research on the real world costs of bio-terrorism. Yes, sophisticated equipment is often needed. Some can be mimicked with some savvy McGuyver stunts, such as using a tire aligning machine in place of a laboratory centrifuge costing 10 times as much. The big thing to remember when putting together your budget is to ignore the catalog cost of state of the art lab equipment. There is a very large and accessible black market for this equipment. Cut equipment costs in half, or even to a quarter.

Of course, it isn’t only terrorists that are fiddling with this sort of thing.

“The work, conducted by scientists at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, was financed by the Pentagon as part of a program to develop biowarfare countermeasures.”

Uh huh. Countermeasures. Gotcha.

I’m also fascinated with the story about “Mr. Z,” a former government scientist and expert on anthrax that worked on biowarfare at Fort Detrick. He is apparently the prime suspect in the recent anthrax mailings, but the FBI seems to be dragging their feet.

“The FBI has a suspect for last year’s anthrax attacks, but is “dragging its heels” because he is a former government scientist familiar with secret state-sponsored research, a leading American expert on biological warfare said yesterday.”

This is part of a larger pattern. Astonishingly, the F.B.I. allowed the destruction of anthrax stocks at Iowa State University, losing what might have been valuable genetic clues. Then it waited until December to open the intact anthrax envelope it found. The F.B.I. didn’t obtain anthrax strains from various labs for comparison until March, and the testing is still not complete. The bureau did not systematically polygraph scientists at two suspect labs, Fort Detrick, Md., and Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, until a month ago.”

Some more on Mr. Z in relation to an hoax anthrax mailing to B’nai B’rith in 1997.

“The F.B.I. must be on top of the B’nai B’rith episode, right? Well, it was told about it months ago. But B’nai B’rith says it hasn’t been asked about the incident by the F.B.I.”

…Scattered thunderstorms across South Florida today…

thunderstorms will develop over the Interior late this morning and
early afternoon and the steering winds will move the storms to the
Northeast toward the East coast metropolitan areas.

Ample sunshine this morning will Increase low level heating and in
Turn make the atmosphere more unstable. Because of the increased
instability, isolated thunderstorms May become Strong with increased
Lightning. Any thunderstorm May produce locally heavy downpours. The
combination of locally heavy rainfall and very saturated ground
conditions in South Florida will Result in Minor flooding of poorly
drained areas and the ponding of water on roadways.

Lightning kills and injures more people in South Florida during the
month of July than any other month. Persons who are outdoors should
watch for the approach of Lightning storms and seek shelter if
necessary as the Lightning could be more intense especially on the
East coast today.

for additional information visit the National Weather Service in
Miami web site at http://www.Srh.Noaa.Gov/mia.

In lighter news, Weezer Video (the Muppet show one) Thanks, laurak !

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