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July 24, 2009

Scientists as crime-fighting detectives

It happened just three weeks after the 9/11 attacks -- mysterious white powder was turning up in letters to the media and politicians in congress. The powder turned out to be deadly, the sender unknown.

The anthrax attacks ended up killing five people and alarming everyone about the threat of biological terrorism. As the FBI tackled the case, they enlisted some unexpected crime-fighters: scientists. They helped trace the powder to its origins. Among them was Claire Fraser-Liggett, director of the University of Maryland's Institute for Genome Sciences, who worked on the project while at the director of the Institute for Genomic Research in Rockville.

She and her team will star in a documentary airing at 9 p.m. Sunday on National Geographic, discussing how they cracked the case. Last month, PBS ran a special on NOVA and there's an online video snippet. It's a fascinating detective story that highlights the use of a new field -- forensic genomics. It's also, as Fraser-Liggett said to me in an interview recently, "really cool."

The FBI gave researchers anthrax samples to investigate, but the feds told the scientists next to nothing about the samples or the details of their investigation. The suspense was huge. Security was thick. And the entire process was pretty tense.

"We all realized this was far more serious than anything we had done before," Fraser-Liggett told me. "Not to say we aren't serious about what we do. But we got a whole lot more serious about what we were doing."

In the end, her team successfully traced the sample to its source. But I won't give away the good parts...

photo courtesy of the AP

Posted by Kelly Brewington at 12:30 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: General Health


I've asked Lew Weinstein today at the blog Case Closed to produce additional unredacted documents relating to flask 1029.

The sample handling was atrocious, and the evidence would never have stood up in a court of law.

In other words, the genetic analysis did not prove that Bruce Ivins was the culprit, and other evidence (the aerosol technology used to create the Daschle-Leahy powder) indicates that the he was physically incapable of launching this attack.

All in all, it's a massive coverup aimed at hiding the fact that private contractors with close links to the U.S. biowarfare establishment are the most likely culprits, not Fort Detrick researchers. They benefited hugely from the anthrax attacks, thanks to the resulting multi-billion dollar Project Bioshield boondoggle.

It's interesting to see what a massive PR effort has been launched to try and sell this nonsense to the public, but that doesn't change the facts of the matter.

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About Picture of Health
Meredith CohnMeredith Cohn has been a reporter since 1991, covering everything from politics and airlines to the environment and medicine. A runner since junior high and a particular eater for almost as long, she tries to keep up on health and fitness trends. Her aim is to bring you the latest news and information from the local and national medical and wellness communities.

Andrea K. WalkerAndrea K. Walker knows it’s weird to some people, but she has a fascination with fitness, diseases, medicine and other health-related topics. She subscribes to a variety of health and fitness magazines and becomes easily engrossed in the latest research in health and science. An exercise fanatic, she’s probably tried just about every fitness activity there is. Her favorites are running, yoga and kickboxing. So it is probably fitting that she has been assigned to cover the business of healthcare and to become a regular contributor to this blog. Andrea has been at The Sun for nearly 10 years, covering manufacturing, retail , airlines and small and minority business. She looks forward to telling readers about the latest health news.

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