NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Old Soviet Biological-Weapons Labs to Cooperate with U.S.

November 2, 2001

In a "swords into plowshares" scenario, several dozen American business executives and six U.S. agencies have been in contact with scientists at Russian laboratories originally established to develop chemical and biological weapons targeted at the U.S. Now it is hoped that some of their research may be utilized to build defenses against bioterrorism.

The organization, called Biopreparat, once employed some 60,000 workers. But over the past three years Americans have been paying special attention to a handful of devices or processes which show promise for both defense and peaceful purposes.

  • There is a jet vaccine injector used on livestock which could potentially be used on humans -- which avoids the problems of earlier models that transferred body fluids from one person to another.
  • Luciferace -- the enzyme that makes fireflies glow -- has the ability to detect tiny amounts of a chemical contained in bacteria, and so shows promise not only in protecting food-processing facilities but also in detecting the presence of biological weapons.
  • The Russians also developed a chemical which could stimulate the growth of Kentucky bluegrass -- perhaps inadvertently discovered during an attempt to find something which would do the exact opposite.
  • By milking snakes, spiders and scorpions, the Soviets built up what may be the world's biggest collection of poisonous venoms -- an inventory that could prove useful in improving pesticides.

Then there is the Soviet expertise in brucellosis -- a contagious disease that destroys cattle herds and can infect humans. If a vaccine can be developed from an infected buffalo herd in Russia, it could be used to treat buffalo in America. That would please cattle ranchers in the west who fear wandering buffalo may infect their livestock.

Source: John Fialka, "Old Soviet Biological-Weapons Labs Lend a Hand to U.S.," Wall Street Journal, November 2, 2001.

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