Could Altering DNA In Bacteria Pose A Terrorist Threat?

Could Altering DNA In Bacteria Pose A Terrorist Threat?

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted June 2, 2007 in DNA and Disease, Genetically Modified Foods and Organisms

listeriaBioterrorism is not just the stuff of science fiction. Scientists have altered the DNA of the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes that causes listeriosis, a form of food poisoning. The bioengineered form of the bacteria can now infect mice, which is normally immune to listeriosis. The change in bacterial DNA results in a different surface protein which enables it to “dock” with a receptor in the mouse gut and sicken the mice. These findings were published in the journal Cell much to some scientists’ dismay. They say that the ability to change the host range of an infectious organism could be used for terrorism.

Bioterrorism Agents or Diseases are divided into three categories by the CDC:

  • Category A – high priority

    Easy to disseminate or transmit, result in high mortality, cause public panic and social disruption. Includes anthrax, botulism, plague, and smallpox.

  • Category B – second highest priority

    Moderately easy to disseminate, result in moderate morbidity and low mortality. Includes brucellosis and food safety threats, e.g. salmonella, E. Coli O157:H7.

  • Category C – third highest priority include emerging pathogens that could be engineered for mass dissemination in the future. Includes emerging infectious diseases such as hantavirus.

If the study had involved a mouse pathogen re-engineered to infect humans, then it might have qualified for category C. As it is, there’s not much to be worried about…yet.

For more information, visit MedlinePlus Biodefense and Bioterrorism.

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Comment by jhay

The technology has always been there. It all takes a sinister mind to do it.

Comment by Hsien

Agreed! And thanks for the comment. :)


[...] Could altering DNA in bacterial pose a terrorist threat? [...]

Comment by Boon Kheng

Remember that bioterrorism needs a great deal of expertise and funding. To curb this phenomenon, we must reinforce bioethics education.


[...] Eye on DNA: Could Altering DNA in Bacteria Pose a Terrorist Threat? [...]


[...] Terrorists alter the DNA in bacteria to create bioweapons and perpetrate mass genetic bioviolence on us [...]


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