Pubdate: Tue, 05 Sep 2000
Date: 09/05/2000
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Author: David D. Porter, MD
Note: Headline supplied by MAP editor.

Biological Warfare In Colombia

That the United States is discussing the use of fungi to eradicate
marijuana, coca and opium poppy plants in Colombia (Aug. 30) looks
like offensive biological warfare to me. The 1925 Geneva Protocol
forbids biological methods of warfare, and in 1969 Richard Nixon
issued a presidential declaration on ending the U.S. biological
weapons program. National stocks of such weapons were supposedly
destroyed by 1972.

The U.S. and United Nations have severely criticized Iraq and Saddam
Hussein for preparing biological weapons, including wheat smut rust,
which makes grain unsuited for consumption. One of the organisms
proposed for use in Colombia, a fungus of the Fusarium genus, is
related to major plant pathogens of wheat and corn and occasional
human pathogens.

While I cannot answer whether such fungi can transfer genes to related
fungi under field conditions, this is a possibility. Our government
should not risk unleashing a major crop disease. Remember the damage
caused by the Irish potato blight, Dutch elm disease and chestnut
blight, each caused by the introduction of an exotic fungus.

I was the chair of the UCLA biosafety committee 1975-1982 and am a
researcher in viral diseases.

David D. Porter, MD,
Professor Emeritus, UCLA

Note: David D. Porter was the chair of the UCLA biosafety committee
1975-1982 and is aresearcher in viral diseases.