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Bioterror: A Boon for Biotech


If FY 2004 government spending plans pan out, there will be more than $2.5 billion available in US federal funding for biodefense research next year, $1.63 billion alone from the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases. The money isn’t earmarked for life sciences research labs, per se, but it’s hard to imagine a bioweapons detection technology or an infectious disease study that wouldn’t somehow incorporate the knowledge derived from the human genome sequence.

In this month’s cover story, GT Senior Editor John MacNeil poses the question, “Can Your Work Contribute to Biodefense?” Some molecular biologists have already realized that it wouldn’t take much to adapt their non-defense-related research to anti-terrorism efforts, and to tap into the budget boon. Whatever you think of the Bush administration’s approaches to biotech policy or its overall defense spending plan, it’s reasonable to expect that the monies allocated by the Centers for Disease Control, the National Center for Infectious Diseases, and NIAID will be generally good news for the genomics sector by spurring new research and more investment, and even by supporting the development of new technologies with applications to medicine and agriculture outside of defense.

Our cover illustration, by the way, is obviously not the scene of a bioterror attack. It’s a photo taken here in lower Manhattan on September 11, 2001. Because that cataclysmic day, however, was what spurred the new anti-bioterror spending, and because, whether correctly or not, it is linked in many minds to the anthrax mailings that followed, the scene conveys the sort of horror that we hope biodefense development will save any of us from having to experience again. Kevin Clarke, a photographer whose work first appeared in GT in April 2003, took the picture on West Street that day. In his trademark style, Clarke overlaid the print with the genetic sequence of another subject — a survivor of the disaster. The photo and others from the scene are featured in Clarke’s book, “Mikey Flowers 9/11: Ashes to Ashes, Dust to DNA.” (See Clarke’s bio on p. 10 for more information.)

In other new genomics technology coverage this issue, Managing Editor Meredith Salisbury demonstrates once again that we’re not post-genomic yet. She has compiled a summary of genome sequencing instruments and methods under development. After formulating her list of 14 new technologies, Meredith spoke with an industry heavyweight who’d been keeping track of new sequencing technologies for the NIH. Seeing as how a comparison of their two lists revealed that Meredith had managed to uncover a few that were news even to him, we’re quite sure you’ll read about some things here you haven’t seen anywhere else.

One final note to faithful readers and fans of Nat Goodman’s IT Guy column: Nat now appears every other month instead of monthly in GT. And lest anyone gets panicky when they realize that he’s absent from this issue and will be again in August, here’s an IT Guy alert: Nat is taking the summer off but will make up for it with a double-header in September and October.

Adrienne J. Burke, Editor in Chief

Coming next month in GT:

• Are you paid what you’re worth? GT’s genomics sector salary survey.

• The new breed of disease-focused genome research centers

• How physicians will hold up pharmacogenomics progress

The Scan

Vaccine Update Recommended

A US Food and Drug Administration panel recommends booster vaccines be updated to target Omicron, CNBC reports.

US to Make More Vaccines for Monkeypox Available

The US is to make nearly 300,000 vaccine doses available in the coming weeks to stem the spread of human monkeypox virus, according to NPR.

Sentence Appealed

The Associated Press reports that Swedish prosecutors are appealing the sentence given to a surgeon once lauded for transplanting synthetic tracheas but then convicted of causing bodily harm.

Genome Biology Papers on COVID-19 Effector Genes, Virtual ChIP-seq, scDART

In Genome Biology this week: proposed COVID-19 effector genes, method to predict transcription factor binding patterns, and more.