Technology and the identification of possible biothreats

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Current threats to global public health as a result of terrorism are not out of the realm possibility. Even though regulations for the availability and use of pathogenic microorganisms for research are in place and are carefully enforced; concerns remain as to the use these biological agents as weapons of war.

Concerns for global public health security have led national and international security agencies to implement strategies to counter possible bioterrorism attacks. Standards for identification of biological agents have been described by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in the “Handbook for sampling and identification of biological and chemical agents”, providing practical guidelines on how to sample, isolate and identify biological agents [1]. Three identification levels are described: provisional, confirmed and unambiguous, with each level of identification based on positive results to tests, for example, determining the presence of a single antigen of the biological agent using immunological tests, detection of unique nucleic acid sequences and in vitro culture or multiple metabolic assays of the possible biothreat.

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