Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Bioterrorism May Be Threat To U.S. Agriculture, Expert Says

Date:
August 10, 1999
Source:
Ohio State University
Summary:
As if drought and low prices weren't enough, there's a new, potential concern in U.S. agriculture: bioterrorism. What would happen if someone deliberately infected a crop with a pathogen? It hasn't happened in the United States yet, but experts think that it can, and they're now beginning to look at the risk.

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- As if drought and low prices weren't enough, there's a new, potential concern in U.S. agriculture: bioterrorism. What would happen if someone deliberately infected a crop with a pathogen?

Related Articles


It hasn't happened in the United States yet, but experts think that it can, and they're now beginning to look at the risk.

Larry Madden, a professor of plant pathology at Ohio State University, said at a conference Aug. 10 that experts need to begin identifying which pathogens would pose the greatest threat to American agriculture if used by bioterrorists.

"The idea is if we can know which pathogens are most likely to be used, those are the ones that regulators can look out for," he said.

The concern is that a disease-causing pathogen, purposely introduced into a U.S. crop, would devastate yields or contaminate the food supply. Agriculture and the economy as a whole would be hurt. People might get sick or go hungry.

Madden discussed some of the issues involved in identifying the most-threatening pathogens in a symposium Aug. 10 in Montreal at the annual meeting of the American Phytopathological Society and Canadian Phytopathological Society.

Madden, a world expert on plant epidemiology, talked about what makes a pathogen a risk. Among the factors: How easily it can be produced, how well it would survive and spread in this country, the types of crops that are susceptible, and the amount and type of damage it can cause.

"These are the types of things that matter in understanding, at least in part, whether a pathogen in a crop is important enough to be concerned about," said Madden, who works at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center in Wooster.

Taken together, Madden said, the factors can be used to compile a "most unwanted" list of plant pathogens. In fact, the U.S. government is working toward just such a goal. A recent workshop in Washington D.C. looked at ways to assess plant pathogens and their potential use in bioterrorist attacks. Madden and other scientists participated. A formal arrangement for assessing pathogens -- involving the Defense Intelligence Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture -- is in the works, Madden said.

Soybean rust is an example of a pathogen that could blast a major crop, Madden said. It's not native to the United States. It spreads fast and ruins yields.

But yield loss isn't the only threat. Some crops produce toxins when infected by certain pathogens. Even small amounts of some of these toxins can cause sickness and death in people and livestock.

An attack using one of these pathogens could lead to big problems, Madden said. An entire crop might have to be screened or destroyed, even if only a small part was infected. "That's probably the scariest part," he said. "A problem might not be obvious at first."

And because of that, a contamination -- no matter how big or small -- could cause a loss of confidence in the safety of the food supply, Madden said. That would harm farmers, consumers and business.

Furthermore, the nature of these toxins might open the door to hoaxes, he said. "These (hoaxes) might be as effective as actually spreading a pathogen. If people thought that a product was contaminated, they might not buy it even if it wasn't."

So who's the enemy? Madden said threats could come from nations, individuals or -- most likely -- terrorist groups.

He described a scenario in which a pathogen, such as the one that causes wheat stem rust, is genetically engineered to be especially virulent. It's sprayed in the air from a single small plane. The spores -- millions of them -- last a long time and are spread by the wind. Infections produce even more spores. If the conditions are right -- and that's a big "if" -- an epidemic could occur.

Infection of a seed source is another possibility, and Madden said it's a greater risk than it used to be. Reason: A lot of the seeds planted in the United States are now grown in other countries, and fewer companies control this production. It's another factor to be aware of, he said.

However, whether a bioterrorist incident ever happens -- and succeeds -- depends on many factors. "Just because a pathogen causes a serious disease in one part of the world doesn't mean that an introduction into the United States is automatically a bad thing," Madden said. "The climate may be different. The insect vector may not be present. There are a lot of things at play that affect the spread of a pathogen."

#

NOTE: An American Phytopathological Society press release about the anti-crop bioterrorism symposium is at: http://www.scisoc.org/opae/media/anticrop.htm


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Ohio State University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Ohio State University. "Bioterrorism May Be Threat To U.S. Agriculture, Expert Says." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 August 1999. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1999/08/990810065844.htm>.
Ohio State University. (1999, August 10). Bioterrorism May Be Threat To U.S. Agriculture, Expert Says. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 27, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1999/08/990810065844.htm
Ohio State University. "Bioterrorism May Be Threat To U.S. Agriculture, Expert Says." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1999/08/990810065844.htm (accessed November 27, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Plants & Animals News

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

New Dinosaur Species Found in Museum Collection

New Dinosaur Species Found in Museum Collection

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Nov. 27, 2014) — A British palaeontologist has discovered a new species of dinosaur while studying fossils in a Canadian museum. Pentaceratops aquilonius was related to Triceratops and lived at the end of the Cretaceous Period, around 75 million years ago. Jim Drury has more. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Classic Hollywood Memorabilia Goes Under the Hammer

Classic Hollywood Memorabilia Goes Under the Hammer

Reuters - Entertainment Video Online (Nov. 26, 2014) — The iconic piano from "Casablanca" and the Cowardly Lion suit from "The Wizard of Oz" fetch millions at auction. Sara Hemrajani reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Pet Dogs to Be Used in Anti-Ageing Trial

Pet Dogs to Be Used in Anti-Ageing Trial

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Nov. 26, 2014) — Researchers in the United States are preparing to discover whether a drug commonly used in human organ transplants can extend the lifespan and health quality of pet dogs. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
From Popcorn To Vending Snacks: FDA Ups Calorie Count Rules

From Popcorn To Vending Snacks: FDA Ups Calorie Count Rules

Newsy (Nov. 25, 2014) — The US FDA is announcing new calorie rules on Tuesday that will require everywhere from theaters to vending machines to include calorie counts. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins