Thursday, October 05, 2006

FLOGGING IT: Beyond the call of duty

No nation is more equipped to fight the war on terror than the United States. And by this, I don't mean our big military!

No ladies and gentlemen, I mean red, white and blue experts! We have experts everywhere with fancy degrees, in every corner of the country, assiduously doing their bit, and flogged by p.r. departments so you don't forget it.

For example, today, just wandering about, I was struck down by the press release "Clemson University Experts for Stories on U.S. War with Iraq."

"Experts say it’s not a matter of if but when terrorists will attempt a strike at our food or water supply," it gaily announces.

"If they succeed, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Americans will become sick, and some among the youngest and oldest victims could die. An early warning detection system is urgently needed. At Clemson University, Paul Dawson and Ya-Ping Sun have devised to a way to tether luminescent molecules to food pathogens, such as E.coli and Salmonella. Using nanotechnology, the researchers are building a new screening method to protect our food supply."

What does Iraq have to do with agroterrorism? Who knows? It's not even important.

It's just important to know that you should write a story or talk to Clemson scientists because it is "not a matter of if but when terrorists will attempt to strike at our food" and then "perhaps thousands . . . of Americans will become sick."

Not only are these boffins protecting us from agroterror, they also know everything about anthrax.

"U.S. scientists say they've developed a countermeasure to combat weaponized anthrax, a biological agent used in 2001 to kill five people," reads a UPI brief, republished at Science Daily today.

Readers will remember that just last week DD related the story told in a scientific paper published in the Journal of Applied and Environmental Microbiology. Written by the FBI scientist who examined the mailed anthrax, it said the material was not weaponized. [Read about it here at the Reg.]

". . . a widely circulated misconception is the spores were produced using additives and sophisticated engineering supposedly akin to military weapon production. This idea is usually the basis for implying that the powders were inordinately dangerous compared to spores alone," wrote FBI scientist Douglas Beecher.

". . . some fraction [of the anthrax spore mixture] is composed of particles that are precisely in the size range that is most hazardous for transmission of disease by inhalation."

Oh no, Clemson men! They can't read!

"For anthrax to be effective, it has to be made into a fine powder that can easily enter the lungs when inhaled," said Clemson University chemist Ya-Ping Sun for the UPI news agency. "What we have done is come up with an agent that clings to the anthrax spores to make their inhalation into the lungs difficult."

And how would this work against bioterror? Perhaps one could persuade the terrorists to spray the agent on their anthrax before going out for an attack. Or it could, maybe, be sprayed over the mail in the US or in buildings everywhere all the time, in case of attack by anthrax.

"Brilliant!" -- as the two men say in the Guinness commercial.

W. T. Sherman said "War is hell." But our terror wars are never so hellish there's no time for vainglorious press releases.

Looking Back! Quote of the Day from a scientist's press release in October of 2001, after the anthrax mailings.

" . . . what I would be more fearful and weary of is an outbreak of smallpox or the bubonic plague, caused by terrorist acts. Smallpox, for example, is contagious and there is no effective treatment available. Even as we speak, some federal officials have reason to believe that Iraq is developing it as a biological weapon," said Jim Matthews, an associate professor of pharmacy for Northeastern University. (Science Daily)

With so many experts, it's easy to see why the war on terror is going well.


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