Monday, November 14, 2011

Bioterrorism threat seen in alien species

It's been the stuff of movies, science fiction and alarmist political rhetoric, but new scientific research shows an invasive species incompatible with a specific ecosystem could be deployed as unique biological weapons by terrorist individuals or organizations.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines invasive species as non-native to an ecosystem and likely to cause environmental, health or economic harm.

The department's recent actions included detection or removal of species alien to North American locations. Some species spread disease among bats; others such as weeds displace or destroy vegetation in natural habitats.

More seriously for humans, invasive species could be manipulated to become biological weapons, researcher Lawrence Roberge said in a doctoral dissertation at Atlantic International University in Honolulu.

"In the hands of a rogue nation, terrorists, or an individual bent on destruction, an invasive species could have an affect similar to better known potential biological weapons such as smallpox or anthrax," said Roberge, an associate professor of anatomy and physiology at Laboure College in Boston.

In the study, Roberge explored multiple threats posed by invasive species consumed or carried by birds, feral pigs, ticks and various kinds of insects and plants. more