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June 15, 2006


I know a Vil Willis. Is that the same guy?

You have got to be kidding me. Oligo synthesis is now a bioterror threat? Boy, there will be tons of pissed off PIs if that's ever followed up on.

And creating an infectious vector of several kb from scratch like this is hella difficult (the number of possible combinations of ligating n oligos being very large; I have enough trouble just trying to ligate my inserts into my vectors!). Much easier to just PCR it from a template, but of course that would require having an infectious poliovirus template to work from, and I assume there are decent controls on the sharing of potential bioterror vectors.

Kagro, could be -- you should vone him and ask

viget -- I was hoping you'd stop by for this one. I know. That was my reaction too. The methods section in the supplemental material to the poliovirus paper are interesting, actually. (The Guardian was trying to make smallpox... fortunately they went to the trouble of putting nonsense mutations into the three oligos they ordered, I guess so they wouldn't spontaneously re-hydrate, mix, ligate, and um... somehow... regenerate the rest of the genome while they're at it...) The poliovirus reconstruction sounds like it was a real pain in the ass. They actually used a combination of straight annealing and ligating oligos and a modified pcr strategy to get it. I should have mentioned there are companies now (here's one I've heard of) that will synthesize double-stranded DNA up to 40kb for you. So, something like that I think it is reasonable to ask them to check what they're building. Although frankly for any bioterror threat -- or any natural biological threat -- I think trying to rapidly detect and contain it when it happens, through public health preparedness, is a far better use of funds than trying to keep it from ever happening. (Avian flu is not a bad example.)

I resent this. Some of us Evildoers do have the patience and determination to stick it out and not settle for shooting people out the back of a car trunk. Sloppy, cheap, and hastily slapped together plans shall not be hallmarks of this Evildoer!

Holy virulence, Batman 'pockets! Can't we all just get along?


I just read that Guardian article. Too hilarious. Apparently they put in the nonsense mutation so it wouldn't run afoul of some UK law against transporting potential bioterror agents, because the law had some clause about "DNA related to an infectious agent." But it's like you said, so are the oligos going to spontaneously rehydrate, ligate together and somehow be transcribed and translated to make an infectious virus particle?

That being said, I think for batch orders of many oligos or for orders of dsDNA that are longer than say, 1kb, a computerized screening process isn't a bad idea. But this needs to be done with consulting leading virologists and other scientists, it shouldn't be that everyone ordering oligos needs a background check or something.

On that note, the ridiculousness has ramped up a notch with irradiators. My wife often does hematopoeitic reconstitution of lethally irradiated mice, so she needs to have access to one of those. Apparently now to have access Homeland Security has a mandated background check and access controls to the facility. Like a would-be terrorist is going to steal the radioactive source and make a dirty bomb? Apparently, you wouldn't live very long if the source isn't properly shielded anyway.

Between massive loopholes and turning corners, I'm getting quite dizzy, phrancine.

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