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UK paper buys smallpox online

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UK newspaper the Guardian has bought a sequence of smallpox virus DNA.

The sequence was 78 letters long while the full smallpox genome is 185,000 letters long. The paper claimed: "So to build a virus from scratch, a terrorist would simply order consecutive lengths of DNA along the sequence and glue them together in the correct order."

But the paper did concede: "This is beyond the skills and equipment of the kitchen chemist, but could be achieved by a well-funded terrorist with access to a basic lab and PhD-level personnel."

A scientist told The Register that the would-be terrorist would need more than a kitchen lab - he'd probably have to take over the front room and the garage as well.

The sequence was supplied by Gateshead company VH Bio Ltd.

VH Bio Ltd chairman Alan Volkers told The Reg: "My information is that the chances of producing the smallpox virus from this are infinitesimal. It has been done for smaller organisms and is possible in theory but in practise it will probably not be possible for the next 50 years."

He said the company would be happy with any regulations that it could follow and stay in business, but it cannot use current screening software for every order.

The sequence had three modifications, at the paper's request, to make it harmless. This was done so the paper would not be in breach of the 2001 Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act.

Read the whole story here. ®

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