Deadly viruses can be assembled with purchases over the Internet

Iran Materials 14 June 2006 11:01 (UTC +04:00)

(AFP) - Trained terrorists could assemble smallpox and other deadly viruses in the absence of laws preventing them from ordering the basic ingredients over the Internet, a British newspaper reported.

The Guardian said it obtained a short sequence of smallpox DNA, though it made sure it ordered a sample which had three small modifications to render it harmless before it was mailed to a home in London, reports Trend.

The deadly smallpox virus has existed only in laboratories since being eradicated from the world's population 30 years ago, it said.

One study estimated that, because most people on the planet have no resistance to the extinct virus, an initial release which infected just 10 people would spread to 2.2 million people in 180 days, it added.

DNA sequences could also be obtained over the Internet for poliovirus and 1918 flu, it added.

The Guardian said researchers have legitimate reasons to buy lengths of DNA from pathogens in order, for example, to develop treatments or vaccines against them.

However, because the industry is new and unregulated, companies are selling custom-made DNA without thoroughly checking what the sequences are or who are the people ordering them.

It said none of the four main firms operating in Britain currently screens all their DNA orders. Nor do all of the 39 companies operating in the United States and Canada screen their orders.

"This is the most disturbing story I have heard for some time," Member of Parliament Phil Willis, who chairs the parliamentary science and technology committee, told The Guardian.

"There is clearly a massive loophole which needs to be dealt with by regulation or legislation," he said.

Alistair Hay, who is an expert on biological and chemical weapons at the University of Leeds and who advises the government and police, was surprised it was "so easy" for a company to supply the DNA to a residential address.

"I think for any company offering (DNA) sequences there is a need to have some screens in place for sequences that may be suspect," Hay told the newspaper.