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Venter Calls For Pathogen Genome Project To Prepare For Biological Terrorist Attacks

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ANAHEIM, Calif.--Bioterrorism could be the next frontier for the application of bioinformatics tools. Speaking at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science here late last month, Craig Venter, founder of Celera Genomics and the Institute for Genomic Research in Rockville, Md., called for genetic maps to be made of all pathogens that could be used as biological weapons. A genomic database of pathogens such as anthrax and bubonic plague could be used to defend the US against terrorist attacks, he contended.

Venter, who served as an advisor to President Clinton on the risks of biological weapons, has suggested that the government undertake a bioterrorism genome project in the same manner as the Human Genome Project. Possessing the genetic code of every pathogen and rapid detection methods "would act as a deterrent," he said.

Frank Young, a former US Food and Drug Administration researcher, agreed. Knowing the genome of every pathogen and potential bioterrorism agent would allow early detection of a biological attack, he said. "It will tip the balance in favor of defense over offense. The consequences are so high that for a nation not to be prepared is unthinkable."

Last month, the Clinton administration asked Congress to approve $206 million to fund research into vaccine development, detection and diagnostic methods, and decontamination procedures that would prepare the US against biological or chemical attack.

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