DARPA Insect Allies, Dual Use Research of Concern, OPCW Hacking Plot

See what we’re reading this week at Global Biodefense on topics including DARPA’s Insect Allies, new Ebola cases in eastern Congo, Dual Use Research of Concern, and cyber-attack plot against the OPCW.

Quick Index


The Pentagon is Studying an Insect Army to Defend Crops. Critics Fear a Bioweapon.

DARPA’s Insect Allies program is studying whether insects can be enlisted to combat crop loss during agricultural emergencies. The bugs would carry genetically engineered viruses that could be deployed rapidly if critical crops such as corn or wheat became vulnerable to a drought, a natural blight or a sudden attack by a biological weapon. Washington Post

Dutch Expel Four Russian GRU Members Attempting to Hack OPCW

Dutch security services say they expelled four Russians over a cyber attack plot targeting the global chemical weapons watchdog. The operation by Russia’s GRU military intelligence allegedly targeted the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague in April. The OPCW has been probing the chemical attack on a Russian ex-spy in the UK. Pandora Report

Horsepox: Framing a Dual Use Research of Concern Debate

In a series of Opinion articles, PLOS Pathogens intends to contribute to this ongoing debate with four balanced and differing perspectives from notable members of the scientific community. The four author groups represented in these Opinions include Drs. Ryan S. Noyce and David H. Evans, two authors of a recent PLOS ONE study on Horsepox virus, Dr. Volker Thiel, who served as Academic Editor for the article describing the study, and Dr. Thomas Inglesby, Jr. and Dr. Kevin M. Esvelt, both of whom have advocated for changes in the peer reviewing and publishing of DURC-related research. PLOS Pathogens

A Controversial Virus Study Reveals a Critical Flaw in How Science Is Done

After researchers resurrected a long-dead pox, some critics argue that it’s too easy for scientists to make decisions of global consequence. The problem is that scientists are not trained to reliably anticipate the consequences of their work. They need counsel from ethicists, medical historians, sociologists, and community representatives—but these groups are often left out from the committees that currently oversee dual-use research. The Atlantic

Achieving the Trump Administration’s National Biodefense Strategy

The newly published National Biodefense Strategy provides a solid foundation, but more may be required to fully realize its goals and objectives. Implementing complex interagency plans requires leadership focus, measurable metrics to assess progress, and adequate resources. Real Clear Defense


Vulnerability to Pandemic Flu Could Be Greater Today Than a Century Ago

Michael Osterholm, PhD, MPH, didn’t mince words when he wrote a love letter to his children and grandchildren. His dispatch, a book entitled Deadliest Enemy: Our War Against Killer Germs, was published last year as a guide for surviving emerging infectious disease threats. “[F]ailure is not an option here,” said Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. JAMA

Infectious Disease Preparedness: Reflections from CDC’s Pandemic Flu Exercise

On September 12-14, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted a pandemic influenza functional exercise in response to a fictional influenza pandemic with federal, state, local, and non-governmental partners. At the link are reflections on the exercise from Lilly Kan, Senior Director for Infectious Disease and Informatics, who represented NACCHO during the exercise. NACCHO


Oct 6 Update: Five New Ebola Cases Confirmed in Eastern Congo

The current epidemic in Congo’s North Kivu and Ituri provinces has seen 140 confirmed cases since July, 108 of whom have died. The five new cases were located in the regional hub of Beni, where attacks by rebel groups in the area and local mistrust of the Ebola response campaign have disrupted treatment and vaccination programs. Reuters

Attempted Ricin Attack Via Mail?

The Pentagon Force Protection Agency on Monday detected a suspicious substance, believed to be the poison ricin. By Wednesday, authorities confirmed that the letters actually contained castor beans, which ricin is derived from. Pandora Report

Why Scientists Should Be Tracking a Catastrophic Pig Disease

We should be paying attention to African swine fever, and not just because it threatens a major food source and billions of dollars in international trade. We should be paying attention because, though it’s an animal-only disease, human inattention is driving this epidemic. Our vast networks of food production and distribution, and consumption and waste disposal, are making an already grave situation worse. Wired

To Reduce Salmonella Contamination in Chicken, Target the Problem on Farms

Salmonella-contaminated chicken has recently caused at least 17 infections—one of them fatal—across four states, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced on Aug. 29. The illnesses represent one of the 12 multistate Salmonella outbreaks reported by CDC this year, a stark reminder that current efforts to control this major foodborne pathogen are inadequate. PEW

Ten Die of MERS in Saudi Arabia Among 32 Cases in Last Three Months: WHO

Ten people have died among 32 infected with Middle East Respiratory Syndrome in Saudi Arabia since June in a series of clusters of the viral disease, the WHO said on Wednesday. The latest cases, recorded between June 1 and September 16, bring the global total of laboratory-confirmed MERS cases to 2,254, with 800 deaths. Reuters

Congo’s Conflict Makes Fighting Ebola, Sexual Violence Risky

The threat of attack means Ebola efforts are limited to daylight hours as teams and their armed escorts, usually U.N. peacekeepers but also Congolese security forces, hurry to get off the roads before dark. ABC News

Oh Fleas, Now There Is A Typhus Outbreak In Los Angeles

Since July, there have been 9 reported cases of typhus in Los Angeles, specifically Pasadena, which qualifies as an outbreak. That brings the number of reported cases for 2018 to 20 for Pasadena and 12 for Long Beach, California. Forbes


Japanese Encephalitis Vaccine Received Accelerated Dosing Regimen

An accelerated dosing regimen for IXIARO (Japanese Encephalitis Vaccine, Inactivated, Adsorbed), received U.S. FDA approval. Japanese encephalitis is a rare but serious disease which is endemic to 24 countries in Asia and parts of the Western Pacific. Precision Vaccinations

Influenza Vaccine Uptake in Primary School Children Reports

Reports on the uptake of the seasonal influenza vaccine and predictors of uptake in children of primary school age in the United Kingdom. GOV.UK

Novel Intranasal Influenza Vaccine Shows Tolerability, Safety, and High Immune Response

NasoVAX, a replication-deficient adenovirus-based nasal spray flu vaccine, has demonstrated tolerability and safety as well as higher cellular immune response compared with a common injectable vaccine. Infectious Disease Advisor

Amid the Spectre of Polio, Papa New Guinea Ramps Up Vaccination Drive

In a dusty laneway on the outskirts of Port Moresby, health workers are battling the spread of an age-old scourge. They are vaccinating children against polio which is resurgent in Papua New Guinea nearly two decades after the country was officially declared free of the disease. Sydney Morning Herald

FDA Approves Expanded Use of HPV Vaccine to Older Populations

The 9-valent, recombinant human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, Gardasil 9, was just granted expanded use to older populations by the US FDA. The approval expands the approved use of the vaccine to women and men age 27 to 45. About 14 million Americans are infected with HPV each year. Approximately 4000 women die annually from cervical cancer caused by certain HPV viruses. Contagion Live

UTMB Develops a Universal Vaccine Platform That is Cheaper and Shelf Stable

The team engineered a live-attenuated Zika vaccine in DNA form. Once the DNA is delivered into our body, it launches the vaccine in our cells, leading to antibody production and other protective immunity. With this production method, there is no need to manufacture the vaccine in cell culture or eggs at factories. Because DNA molecules are shelf stable, the vaccine will not expire at warm temperatures and could be stockpiled at room temperature for years. Infection Control Today


USAMRIID Study Finds Hemorrhagic Fever Disease Persists in Monkeys

While Marburg is a different disease than Ebola, they are both filoviruses, and the research conducted at USAMRIID may shed light on ways Ebola persists as well, according to the study. The findings might indicate why human survivors of Ebola have Ebola RNA in their semen despite having no clinical signs of the disease. Frederick News Post

UK to Sequence 5 Million Genomes in 5 Years

NHS announced ambitious plans to sequence 5 million genomes over a 5-year period. Moreover, the 100,000 Genomes Project, which is run by Genomics England (GeL), is to be expanded to incorporate the whole genome sequencing of 1 million patients. Frontline Genomics

Giving Malaria a Deadline

Previous efforts to reduce mosquito fertility using gene drives have failed because mutations arise in the stretches of DNA targeted by scientists, nullifying the engineered changes. These mutations are heavily favored by natural selection and permit the mosquitoes to escape the genetic trap. Dr. Crisanti and his colleagues instead found a way to target a stretch of DNA that does not vary from one mosquito to another. NY Times


When Anthrax-Laced Letters Terrorized the Nation

Feverish and delirious, Bob Stevens arrived at a Florida hospital in the early morning hours of October 2, 2001. The emergency room doctors thought the 62-year-old photojournalist might be suffering from meningitis. But when an infectious disease specialist looked at Stevens’ spinal fluid under a microscope, he realized there was another, terrifying possibility. Lab tests confirmed it, and on October 4 Stevens was diagnosed with inhalation anthrax. History

The Viruses That Neanderthals Spread to Humans

The two ancient hominin groups swapped genes, diseases, and genes that protect against diseases, according to a new study. The paper reasons that Neanderthals had evolved some resistance to the viruses that must have circulated among them in Europe. Modern humans, on the other hand, were likely encountering those viruses for the first time. So when they mated with Neanderthals, subsequent generations of offspring that inherited the genes for Neanderthal-virus–interacting proteins would be more likely to survive. The Atlantic

1918 Influenza Pandemic Exacted Deadly Toll on Western Pennsylvania, World 100 Years Ago

The pandemic struck in three distinct, deadly phases. The first appeared at an Army base in Kansas on March 11, when a private reported before dawn to the infirmary at Fort Riley with an aching head and muscles, a cough, sore throat and chills from a raging fever. TribLive


Interview with Dr. Marta Lado on Ebola, and Its Aftermath, in Sierra Leone

“I stayed. I showed commitment. That has definitely helped show the Ministry of Health that I’m serious about working together now. On the whole though, I’m not proud of what happened during Ebola. Nobody had the resources to adequately treat anyone, and thousands died needlessly. Often I felt like I was only making a horrific death more dignified.” Partners in Health

A Global Health Evangelist Is Shocked to Hear He’s A ‘Genius’

Gregg Gonsalves took a wild, meandering path to the Ivory Tower. His route to becoming a professor at Yale started in street protests and spanned the globe. On Thursday he was honored with a prestigious MacArthur Fellowship. The award from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation comes with a $625,000 no-strings-attached stipend. NPR


Think You Don’t Need A Flu Shot? Here Are 5 Reasons to Change Your Mind

Many Americans ignore the advice to get a flu shot. The U.S. vaccination rate hovers at about 47 percent a year. This is far below the 70 percent target. And college students are among the least vaccinated. So why aren’t people getting the vaccine? The college survey data point to a mix of misperception and fear. NPR

What Vaccines are Recommended for You

Review the sections at this link to learn what vaccines you may need and check with your healthcare professional to make sure you are up to date on recommended vaccines. CDC

Biosecurity and Biodefense Industry News

SIGA, USAMRIID Enter Agreement to Evaluate Post-Exposure Prophylactic for Smallpox

Health Security Headlines

Convening the Emergency Committee for Ebola, Antibiotics as Infrastructure, Vaccine Confidence