WASHINGTON, Feb. 28 - In a Capitol Hill conference room here on Thursday, scientists from the American Phytopathological Society, together with the president of The Institute for Genomic Research, asked the US Congress to help fund what they believe would be a first-line of defense against agricultural bioterrorism.
TIGR's president, Claire Fraser, estimated that a database of the most dangerous plant bacteria, fungi, and viruses to help fight this new kind of war might be had for $150 million to $200 million. Such a database, she said, would lay the groundwork for a thorough plan to guard the nation's crops.
A database of this kind would have to contain the complete sequencing of three strains of each pathogen, she said. Drafts of 10 to 20 related strains, on the other hand, would create a "fabulous forensic database."
"Getting the sequence is just a first step," said Fraser. "It's a beginning but a much more informed beginning."
Jacqueline Fletcher, the president-elect of the APS, had initially asked for $25 million--a paltry sum when compared to the estimated $30 billion the US loses each year to endemic crop diseases, according to Larry Madden, an APS member from Ohio State University.
Other suggestions included a unified list of the most dangerous plant pathogens, and a national lab, comparable to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Scientists also pointed to a plan that would address crop security, and a coordinated effort that would rapidly identify, contain, and manage potential outbreaks.
Floyd Horn, an official from the US Office of Homeland Security who attended the meeting, said: "I thought there were some beautiful ideas here."