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Weaponized Virus


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#1 antimatter

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Posted 1 April 2009 - 02:57 AM

If some country (not pointing any fingers...yet) were to weaponize a virus, like say, ebola, how would they do it? Moreover, how would it be unleashed and how effective would it be? Do you think that it would be more deadly than chemical or nuclear warfare? It seems to me that biological weapons are much more efficient, deadly, and they don't leave quite as much of a mess as several thousand miles of dead, irradiated soil. I'm not entirely familiar with the process of weaponizing and spreading of a virus, so I'm curious. Any insight?
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#2 coke

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Posted 1 April 2009 - 03:52 AM

The only reason a virus may be better than chemical/nuclear is that you can only infect a couple people and let the virus spread... although i suppose you can have tiny bombs of viruses drop in little parachutes... :)

It maybe as effective as chemical warfare (i.e. nerve gas) because say VX and some botulinium are both highly toxic and both very 'dirty'... in that way nuclear warfare will probably always be a quicker and more powerful approach, although it is also a bit 'dirty' when you consider the radiation mutations (even the clean more powerful non radioactive fusion H-bombs need a dirty easier to initiate fission booster)
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#3 Dudde

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Posted 1 April 2009 - 06:52 AM

You can probably also figure something out using the water supply - whether it be mixing it with the sprayers at wal-mart, or finding a hugely known water theme park
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#4 antimatter

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Posted 1 April 2009 - 08:16 PM

So perhaps it would stay under cover and be more subtle than a massive bomb wiping out everything within a certain radius? A little here in the water supply, and people start getting sick, but people only start noticing a trend after the virus has already spread a great deal. I recall a book by Richard Preston called "The Cobra Event", where a virus is released into a city by a terrorist. It's spread through these hand crafted boxes that are filled with dust (the virus), and the government only finds out after it has been through many people's hands, and there's already been a great deal of fatalities.
Perhaps it's effective when used in the right way, and in the right circumstances.
By the way, is there any difference between a 'weaponized virus' and just some samples of it?
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#5 GDG

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Posted 2 April 2009 - 12:13 AM

Basically, you would want something that is highly infective, highly lethal, and easy to deliver. The first two you do by breeding or engineering, the last by formulation and packaging. And of course, there's a relevant Wikipedia article.
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#6 jake.com

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Posted 2 April 2009 - 12:34 AM

Remember your history, back during the Roman Empire warriors who had died from smallpox infections were usually burned. Someone figured that, "Hey, why dont we throw the dead bodies over the enemies wall?" That was among the first biological weapons ever used.

PS- the best kind of biological weapon is the kind that no one notices till it's too late, ie: smallpox, ebola, HIV, anthrax, or, best of all, rabies.

PSS- if you are looking to just weaken the enemy, the best would be varicella.
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#7 Mr Skeptic

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Posted 2 April 2009 - 12:57 AM

Well, viruses I think are fairly fragile, and also require live cells to culture them. A bacterium that can form spores, on the other hand, is quite resilient and can be cultured. The most difficult part of biological warfare is delivery. You need a critter that can survive being sprayed into the air, and that can infect via the lung. To increase deadliness, for bacteria you can give them plasmids that give antibiotic resistances, and plasmids that produce toxins. For viruses, you need to insert the genes into their genome. You probably want a sickness that does not spread easily, otherwise it could get out of control. You probably want one that is not simple to manufacture, otherwise your enemy will make some and send it back.
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#8 antimatter

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Posted 2 April 2009 - 02:07 AM

PS- the best kind of biological weapon is the kind that no one notices till it's too late, ie: smallpox, ebola, HIV, anthrax, or, best of all, rabies.


Ebola is definitely not the best kind of biological weapon. In fact, while it's disturbingly dangerous, it usually kills the host too quickly for the virus spreads. It incubates in around 5 days, and then kills the host in the next several days. It's too fast.

I agree on rabies. It causes encephalitis, which is deadly enough, and then takes 2-12 weeks to incubate before symptoms start showing up.
It's transmitted through the saliva of an infected animal, so it shouldn't be too hard to taint a water supply. The problem is, modern medicine can deal with rabies quite easily. Immunizations against it are also a possible threat.

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Well, viruses I think are fairly fragile, and also require live cells to culture them. A bacterium that can form spores, on the other hand, is quite resilient and can be cultured. The most difficult part of biological warfare is delivery. You need a critter that can survive being sprayed into the air, and that can infect via the lung. To increase deadliness, for bacteria you can give them plasmids that give antibiotic resistances, and plasmids that produce toxins. For viruses, you need to insert the genes into their genome. You probably want a sickness that does not spread easily, otherwise it could get out of control. You probably want one that is not simple to manufacture, otherwise your enemy will make some and send it back.


So with all of this genetic engineering, how could you actually find a spore, insert the genes, provide plasmids and just overall do it without some state of the art lab? I hear all these stories and read these medical thrillers about terrorists making these bio-warfare weapons in their makeshift labs, but it doesn't seem at all realistic. What technology would it actually take?
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#9 Mr Skeptic

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Posted 2 April 2009 - 02:38 AM

So with all of this genetic engineering, how could you actually find a spore, insert the genes, provide plasmids and just overall do it without some state of the art lab? I hear all these stories and read these medical thrillers about terrorists making these bio-warfare weapons in their makeshift labs, but it doesn't seem at all realistic. What technology would it actually take?


Not all that much technology. Take for example Anthrax, a soil bacterium which is normally harmless, but can be deadly under the right circumstances. As a soil bacteria, it is naturally resistant to several antibodies (due to competition the the organisms we get our antibodies from), is a spore former, is not easily transmissible. The ones used by terrorists were a strain that had already been weaponized; if the wrong person were to acquire even one speck of a weaponized strain, they would not need to bother with any of the technology to create one, they could just jump right to production.

To actually create your own weaponized strain, if you have a bacterium (I don't know about viruses) it is fairly easy to get them to accept a plasmid. Some bacteria are naturally competent (in microbiology, this means they can accept plasmids), but if not they can be heat-shocked or zaped to make them competent. As for the plasmid, you can buy plasmids fairly cheaply and they usually come with a specific antibody resistance. Finding/acquiring the right genes to add to the plasmid is harder, but could be done by trial and error, or if the sequence is known you can buy the right primers to amplify it and then insert it into a plasmid. They sell kits to to purify DNA (you need the bacteria with the gene) and amplify genes via PCR. Then cut the gene and plasmid with the same enzymes and ligate them together, and insert into the bacteria. You now have bacteria with a new gene, which could be eg the gene for botulism or an antibiotic resistance. To turn bacteria into spore form, you need to stress them enough without killing them.

While you could do this with a few thousand dollars at home, you are likely going to set off all kinds of alarm bells and get your ass arrested. I think many of the biotechnology labs won't sell you stuff unless you are a research facility.
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#10 coke

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Posted 2 April 2009 - 02:54 AM

maybe something that will spread to millions of people and only affects them after like 15 years, then?

but then if you're in a war that would not be very useful, would it now?
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#11 DrDNA

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Posted 2 April 2009 - 04:04 AM

maybe something that will spread to millions of people and only affects them after like 15 years, then?

but then if you're in a war that would not be very useful, would it now?


I believe that would depend on exactly what type of "war" one were engaged in and the primary objectives of said "war".

For example, the objective of the "war" against Native Americans was genocide.
And it took decades to achieve that objective because it took that long to nearly exterminate many tribes' primary protein source- the American buffalo.
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#12 coke

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Posted 2 April 2009 - 06:16 AM

forget this post i started talking off topic
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#13 jake.com

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Posted 2 April 2009 - 10:10 AM

Naegleria would be another ideal choice, since its hard to find once infected. It's also extremely contagious, and the bodies it kills become very toxic biohazards.
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#14 antimatter

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Posted 2 April 2009 - 05:04 PM

Naegleria would be another ideal choice, since its hard to find once infected. It's also extremely contagious, and the bodies it kills become very toxic biohazards.


I'm not too familiar with it, can you give me some more specifics?
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#15 CharonY

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Posted 2 April 2009 - 06:39 PM

Not all that much technology. Take for example Anthrax, a soil bacterium which is normally harmless, but can be deadly under the right circumstances. As a soil bacteria, it is naturally resistant to several antibodies (due to competition the the organisms we get our antibodies from), is a spore former, is not easily transmissible. The ones used by terrorists were a strain that had already been weaponized; if the wrong person were to acquire even one speck of a weaponized strain, they would not need to bother with any of the technology to create one, they could just jump right to production.


Skeptic, you are mixing up a lot of different concepts here and in wrong contexts, too. I won't comment on that further, though as it would be off-topic.

Re: weaponization. This is not really about plasmids (some bacterial toxins or virulence factors are plamid encoded, many are not), or any genetic manipulation for that matter. B. anthracis (not anthrax, that is the disease) for instance is not harmless on its own as most strains are naturally carrier of the toxins causing anthrax. The weaponization usually refers to the delivery. Most biological agents are lousy in that regard, that is why they are commonly not considered to be superior to chemical agents (though it may appear to be more frightening).
Also it is unlikely that they easily spread without being noticed, as usual symptoms appear first. There are exceptions, of course (like e.g. HIV).
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#16 jake.com

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Posted 2 April 2009 - 08:20 PM

I'm not too familiar with it, can you give me some more specifics?


http://en.wikipedia....egleria_fowleri
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#17 antimatter

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Posted 2 April 2009 - 11:27 PM

Skeptic, you are mixing up a lot of different concepts here and in wrong contexts, too. I won't comment on that further, though as it would be off-topic.

Re: weaponization. This is not really about plasmids (some bacterial toxins or virulence factors are plamid encoded, many are not), or any genetic manipulation for that matter. B. anthracis (not anthrax, that is the disease) for instance is not harmless on its own as most strains are naturally carrier of the toxins causing anthrax. The weaponization usually refers to the delivery. Most biological agents are lousy in that regard, that is why they are commonly not considered to be superior to chemical agents (though it may appear to be more frightening).
Also it is unlikely that they easily spread without being noticed, as usual symptoms appear first. There are exceptions, of course (like e.g. HIV).


I assumed that weaponization meant what Mr. Skeptic was talking about. Finding a spore that could carry the virus, and modifying it to suit your needs.
By the way, you say that most biological agents are lousy in regards to delivery. Why?
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#18 CharonY

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Posted 2 April 2009 - 11:43 PM

Spore are specialized encapsulated cells. Putting a virus into (bacterial) spores or whatever does not begin to make sense. Of course you could add pathogenicity factors into a related but harmless bacterium to create a pathogen (there are some examples around) or even easier, just get a pathogenic one to start with. What I meant is the delivery that allows infection of a significant amount of people.

There were a lot reasons why delivery of biological agents is rather inefficient. I do not remember all of them but here just some things off the top of my head.
Basically you have to remember that first you need a way that makes people inhale/ingest them in signficant amounts. Bacteria and viruses are not able to penetrate the skin barrier (which a lot of chemical toxins could do). At the same time you need to keep them biologically active, which limits the possibilities somewhat.
The anthrax letters, for instance brought a high amount of pathogens directly in contact with potential human hosts, however in the end relatively few ended up infected and even fewer died. Now if you imagine that you want to fill a relevant volume (e.g. a house) with that material, you need to deliver quite a lot it.
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