Skip to content

    Women's Health

    Font Size
    A
    A
    A

    Polio Virus Created From Scratch in Lab

    Will Smallpox Be Next? Not Likely, Scientists Say

    continued...

    In fact, any poliovirus released into the population right now "wouldn't do any harm whatsoever because we're all so protected," Wimmer tells WebMD. "Some say that poliovirus isn't necessarily a bioterrorist agent because it doesn't kill. We can debate whether killing is necessary to really cause terror. I don't think it is."

    Patrolling the Internet for information, or screening buyers, is not necessary, he adds. "A bioterrorist would be sophisticated enough to use samples from laboratories.

    "It would be a big mistake to curtail dissemination of information, because information even about dangerous pathogens leads to useful research to combat impact of these pathogens, including development of drugs against it or means to protect our immune systems. Curtailing free flow of information I believe is counterproductive," says Wimmer.

    "We wanted to make sure that everybody knows -- and is put on notice -- that this kind of work can be done," he tells WebMD. "This kind of work is only a warning message. But we should note the possibility that such misuse of modern biomedical research and biotechnology could cause harm. Once we know that, we can begin to think of safeguards."

    He says the WHO has already planned to stockpile polio vaccines to contain any outbreak and is continuing the vaccination program.

    There's always the fear of the mad, isolated scientist not connected with any terrorist organization, Wimmer says. "That's the problem with anthrax, which we suspect was done by a very sophisticated U.S. citizen, yet we can't find him. You always have the fear of somebody crazy and intelligent. If that's the case, that person could have done what we did without our paper."

    Re-creating a virus, however, "is a real complicated thing," he says. "It sounds easy, but in fact it is not easy."

    "I would downplay idea that there's a threat to the public," Frederic Bushman, PhD, associate professor in infectious diseases at the Salk Institute for Biologic Studies in La Jolla, Calif., tells WebMD.

    Bushman, a virologist, agreed to comment on Wimmer's research for WebMD.

    In truth, the ability to assemble packages of DNA [to create an organism like the polio virus] has been available since the early 1980s, says Bushman. "There's nothing terribly new about this development -- the methods have been around a long time. But I'd like to emphasize that it's not terribly easy. It would take several people in a lab working for a couple years, and there aren't that many labs outside the U.S. that could do it."

    Today on WebMD

    hands on abdomen
    Test your knowledge.
    womans hand on abdomen
    Are you ready for baby?
     
    birth control pills
    Learn about your options.
    insomnia
    Is it menopause or something else?
     
    woman in bathtub
    Slideshow
    period
    VIDEO
     
    bp app on smartwatch and phone
    Slideshow
    estrogen gene
    Quiz
     

    Send yourself a link to download the app.

    Loading ...

    Please wait...

    This feature is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later.

    Thanks!

    Now check your email account on your mobile phone to download your new app.

    Blood pressure check
    Slideshow
    hot water bottle on stomach
    Quiz
     
    question
    Assessment
    Attractive young woman standing in front of mirror
    Quiz