The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) plans to publish in peer-reviewed journals much of the scientific evidence it used to pin the 2001 anthrax attacks on microbiologist Bruce Ivins….
In lieu of expert witnesses and cross-examinations, the FBI plans to offer the evidence for peer review and will keep much of the data quiet until they are published. FBI laboratory director Chris Hassell anticipates a dozen or so papers related to the case, in addition to those that have already been published. However, Hassell says, some details of the investigation will remain confidential, so that potential bioterrorists won’t know exactly what they’re up against. “It’s just what we have to do for national security,” he says.
“Given that Ivins cannot stand trial, putting the data through the rigorous process of scientific review may be the best available alternative,” says Alan Pearson, director of the biological and chemical weapons control programme at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation in Washington DC….
Paul Keim, a microbial geneticist at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, identified the anthrax from the letters as being the Ames strain, one of dozens of known strains of Bacillus anthracis. Within the sample were different variants of the Ames strain that characterized a signature mixture, the FBI said. Scientists at the Institute for Genomic Research in Rockville, Maryland, sequenced a dozen genomes from the letters and identified mutations specific to the bacteria used in the attacks.
The FBI selected four insertions and deletions to serve as markers for the attack cocktail. They obtained more than 1,000 samples of Ames bacteria from labs across the world. Of those samples, eight were a match. Those mixtures, the FBI said, were all linked to RMR-1029 — a flask in Ivin’s lab. This analysis was completed in early 2007, Hassell said. Narrowing the focus from all individuals with access to RMR-1029 to Ivins was, apparently, a matter of non-scientific techniques.
Releasing the scientific evidence would be a very good thing. Hopefully, it will happen very quickly–and be in an open access journal.