The Limits of Bioterrorism

Carl Zimmer in Slate:

Screenhunter_01_mar_30_0823An outbreak of E. coli isn’t usually the stuff of feel-good stories. Feel-bad is more like it—or even feel-organ-failure. But recent E. coli outbreaks can offer us a bit of solace. We live in the anxious age of synthetic biology, when scientists can reconstruct entire genomes from raw chemicals, and when we all fret that someone is going to use this new technology to create a monster bug and unleash a man-made plague. According to one government report, “The effects of some of these engineered biological agents could be worse than any disease known to man.” But a close look at recent outbreaks of E. coli—and a closer look at the bacteria themselves—may help us to put aside our fears for the moment. Engineering plagues is harder than it looks.

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