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Terrorist threat rewrites the book on biowar

Institute updates treatise on biological warfare.

If you want to know staphylococcal enterotoxin from streptococcal exotoxin, consider adding the Borden Institute's latest edition of Medical Aspects of Biological Warfare to your nightstand.

This scholarly tome is an authoritative update on the weaponization of biological agents. A distinguished group of authors take us from familiar standbys (anthrax, plague, smallpox) through the potential horrors of inadvertent or deliberate release of "oranimal"--bioengineed plant organisms--and onto the "arbitrary use of human embryonic tissue in research."

An update from the 1997 edition was required because of the increased threat posed by biological warfare and terrorism, according to the Borden Institute, a branch of the U.S. Army Medical Department Center & School. "A decade later, the complexity of the threat has increased beyond the boundaries of state-sponsored programs and to the terrorist use of novel pathogens," said Army Colonel George W. Korch, of the Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases.

Developing biological weapons is simple, at least in concept, according to Chapter 25. Just build a virus that evades the body's immune defenses, reaches a target organ or tissue quickly, and then kills you; or better yet, infects you with a severe, highly communicable and lingering illness.

Man's increasing knowledge of specific human genetic defects or vulnerabilities and his growing skill in replicating them, plus his ability to modify microorganisms or toxins for increased virulence and infectivity, will make for an interesting century, the book posits.

Other topics include the history of biological weapons ("From Poisoned Darts to Intentional Epidemics"); food, waterborne, and agricultural diseases; epidemiology of bio warfare and bioterrorism; organisms and toxins; laboratory identification; consequence and casualty management; countermeasures and biosafety; ethical and legal considerations in biodefense research and emerging infectious diseases. All a must-read on the subway ride home.

Medical Aspects of Biological Warfare comes extensively annotated and includes a fantastic bibliography but skips the gruesome illustrations other treatises can't seem to resist. The Borden Institute publishes a wide range of illustrated textbooks on art and science of military medicine; available in hardback, as well as on its Web site.