Biological Warfare

Biotechnology plays a central role in the development of offensive biological weapons and defensive technologies. Obvious offensive measures include developing more potent, more contagious, easier to manufacture and disseminate viruses, bacteria, and toxins that are resistant to antibiotics and antidotes.

Because symptoms of an infection by a biological such as anthrax may not be evident for days, defensive measures include the development of real-time detectors of airborne or waterborne biological agents that can warn of a biological attack. Armed with this information, it's more likely that a population exposed to a biological can be treated before the disease has progressed to the point that a high mortality is inevitable.

The biochip illustrated in Figure A.5 can respond to a variety of airborne or waterborne biologicals, such as anthrax and smallpox. Once the chip is exposed, it is developed by a process that makes the presence of bi-ologicals visible as a color change in areas on the chip. In practice, the color change in the biochips, which are about the size of a thumbnail, is read by a computer-controlled laser, and the change in color of a row of sample areas on the chip automatically sounds an alarm.

There is a variety of alternative biochip designs as well. For example, one design uses the presence of biologicals to close an electric circuit, sounding an alarm. The various approaches to detecting biologicals are each associated with a mix of cost, portability, sensitivity, and speed of detection. For example, some technologies require refrigerator-sized units, whereas others are handheld units that are designed to be carried by military personnel.

Expose to Air/Water

Pristine Biochip


FIGURE A.5 A biochip detector for biologicals.

In this example, the third row from the top of the biochip changes color in the presence of anthrax spores.

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