[ Back to EurekAlert! ] Public release date: 16-Feb-2003
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Contact: Andrea Lohse
alohse@asmusa.org
202-942-9292
American Society for Microbiology

Symposium explores microbial forensics and the investigation of biocrimes

February 16, 2003--Denver, CO--September 11 and the events of October 2001 have focused attention on the threat posed by criminals that may use biological pathogens to do harm--and how to catch them. The massive investigation into the “anthrax letters” that caused more than 20 cases of rare, inhalation anthrax and at least 5 deaths blended public health and law enforcement strategies in an effort to stop the outbreak and trace the organism. Unfortunately, the perpetrator or perpetrators remain at large. “Microbial Forensics: A Scientific Assessment,” a symposium at the Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Denver, CO, will address the systems, methods and technologies required for the successful investigation of biocrimes that could be directed against individuals, institutions, livestock and crops.

The session on Sunday, February 16, 2:30-5:30 pm, will explore microbial forensics, the emerging discipline that combines principles of public health epidemiology and law enforcement to identify patterns in a disease outbreak, determine the pathogen involved, control its spread and trace the microorganism to its source--the perpetrator(s). Microbial forensics investigations require and use traditional investigative methodology, established molecular techniques and new, advanced methods that still may be under development. Since investigators must consider eventual prosecution and presentation of evidence in the courts, biocrime criminal investigations require careful controls and standards for validation and evaluation of technologies and the data they produce.

Speakers at the American Academy of Microbiology (AAM) sponsored session include organizer Abigail Salyers, Ph.D. ,University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and past president of the American Society for Microbiology, who will provide an overview of microbial forensics. Bruce Budowle, Ph.D., of the F.B.I. will speak on “Practical Implications of Microbial Forensics.” Joseph Campos, Ph.D., Children’s National Medical Center, will discuss “Testing Standards in the World of Microbial Forensics.” Paul Keim, Ph.D., of the University of Northern Arizona, author of the just-published AAM report “Microbial Forensics: A Scientific Assessment,” will present “Characterizing Isolates of Bacillus anthracis Used in Acts of Bioterrorism.” Bette Korber, Ph.D., of Los Alamos National Laboratory, will speak on “Forensic Considerations for a Rapidly Evolving Pathogen like HIV-1.”

The symposium participants were among 25 prominent scientists brought together at a colloquium focused on evidence gathering; identification of biocrime organisms; tracing sources of organisms; investigative techniques; and education, training and communication issues. Findings of the entire group are summarized in “Microbial Forensics: A Scientific Assessment,” (available on-line beginning February 17, visit: http://www.asmusa.org/acasrc/academy.htm) a document that analyses the current state of microbial forensics science, technology, preparedness, and cooperation--and makes specific recommendations for future action to address biocrimes that pose a threat to public health, societal morale, economic security, and political stability.

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The American Academy of Microbiology is an honorific leadership group within the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) whose mission is to recognize excellence and foster knowledge in the microbiological sciences. Its programs include convening critical issues colloquia and developing consensus-building position papers that provide expert scientific opinion on current and emerging issues in microbiology.

AAM reports can be downloaded for free: http://www.asmusa.org/acasrc/academy.htm

For more information and to get a hard copy of “Microbial Forensics: A Scientific Assessment,” contact Andrea Lohse at the American Academy of Microbiology (202)942-9292 or alohse@asmusa.org.


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