- 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
- 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."