British 'Supergerm' Created
For Defense - 'Ethnic Specific'
Germs Discussed
By Joe Murphy
London Sunday Telegraph
Britain's Ministry of Defense has disclosed that it is creating lethal genetically modified (GM) organisms in a secret program to prepare defenses against a new era of germ warfare.
Tests of the potential of "GM supergerms" are being conducted at Porton Down, the headquarters of the government's chemical and biological defense establishment.
The research uses similar genetic engineering techniques to those that create GM foods sold in supermarkets. It was launched to study the implications should such technology be developed for weapons of mass destruction by an enemy power.
The government has kept the experimental research secret, but the London Sunday Telegraph has learned it has been going on for at least five years.
The theoretical threat posed by GM germs has alarmed the Ministry of Defense. Genetic techniques can make biological weapons more dangerous to humans and less easy to detect or counter.
It is already feasible to use genetic engineering to introduce a lethal toxin into a pathogen -- an organism that attacks humans -- to increase its killing potential. Organisms can also be modified to resist antidotes.
In the future, it may be possible to wipe out an army with mutant germs that would then be made benign by a genetic flaw, enabling an enemy force to invade in safety.
An enemy may be more ready to deploy such "controllable" GM weapons than existing organisms such as anthrax. Ultimately, it may be possible to develop an "ethnic destruction" germ, that is, an organism that would attack the genes of a particular race.
In January, a study by the British Medical Association warned that a plague or toxin designed to kill specific racial groups could be only five to 10 years away.
Britain has signed treaties prohibiting the creation of biological weapons for military purposes. The sole reason for the research at Porton Down is to develop protection measures against any threat posed to the population or to servicemen.
A Ministry of Defense spokesman said: "To perform this task our scientists have to be at the cutting edge of biological scientific knowledge, including the techniques of genetics."