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DNA Sequence Withheld From New Botulism Paper

timothy posted about 9 months ago | from the keep-your-genes-zipped dept.

Medicine 182

New submitter rex.clts writes "In the IT security world, it is common practice to withhold specifics when announcing a newly discovered software vulnerability. The exact details regarding a buffer overflow or race condition are typically kept secret until a patch is available, to slow the proliferation of exploits against the hole. For the first time, this practice has been extended to medical publishing. A new form of Botulism has been identified, but its DNA sequence (the genetic code that makes up the toxin) has been withheld, until an antidote has been found. It seems that censorship in the name of "security" is spreading (with DHS involved this comes as no surprise.) Is this the right move?"

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Is this the right move? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45172937)

When has with holding information 'ever' been the right move?

Hypocrite. (5, Funny)

TheMiddleRoad (1153113) | about 9 months ago | (#45172967)

"When has with holding information 'ever' been the right move?"

Says the anonymous coward.

How small is your penis and what are your email and password?

Re:Hypocrite. (1)

spokenoise (2140056) | about 9 months ago | (#45172977)

All your sequence are belong to us!

Re:Hypocrite. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45173039)

"When has with holding information 'ever' been the right move?"

Says the anonymous coward.

How small is your penis and what are your email and password?

Some day if you ever grow up you may realize just how sad and pathetic
your comment above really is.

No one gives a fuck what you think. You are a loser and a twerp who exists on
the internet instead of in real life. Now do us all a favor and kill yourself. It will be
the only noble act you perform in your entire worthless life.

Re:Hypocrite. (3, Insightful)

chris.alex.thomas (1718644) | about 9 months ago | (#45173543)

it doesn't matter whether anybody cares about him/her/the person, what matters is the message, which was, that the anonymous coward was withholding his personal information because it was the "right move" to protect the coward from outside intrusion therefore it was a hypocritical statement.

you on the other hand, are just an asshole, I care more about somebody pointing out hypocrisy because they are useful in society, assholes however, aren't really very useful for anything....apart from shitting on things....

Re:Hypocrite. (1, Flamebait)

fast turtle (1118037) | about 9 months ago | (#45174039)

another thing assholes are good for is fucking with along with feeding to our freinds Petunia's. Oh they also work quite nicely as training aids on the firing range - better then idiot officers.

Re:Hypocrite. (2)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about 9 months ago | (#45173933)

What a Churchillian response.

I estimate a 1/10 chance you even understand what I just said.

Re:Hypocrite. (3, Insightful)

Ultra64 (318705) | about 9 months ago | (#45173067)

Right, cause "TheMiddleRoad" is the name your parents gave you.

Re:Hypocrite. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45173105)

My name is John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt and his name is my name, too.

Whenever we go out the people always shout "Get out of the middle of the road!"

And now you know.

Re:Hypocrite. (4, Insightful)

MysteriousPreacher (702266) | about 9 months ago | (#45173139)

Says Ultra64.

If person a makes a claim, that person b calls them on, it doesn't follow that person b is hypocritical for asking person a to do what person a said everybody else should. Got it?

Re:Hypocrite. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45173169)

Sounds like a fallacy to me.

Re:Hypocrite. (4, Insightful)

MysteriousPreacher (702266) | about 9 months ago | (#45173185)

Not really. The burden of proof is on the person making the claim. Consider another example. Bob says that we should all learn a second language. Alice has mad no attempt to learn a second language, and neither has Bob. Alice has no obligation here, while Bob really should explain why he is exempt.

Re:Hypocrite. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45173845)

Tu Quoque

Re:Hypocrite. (1)

epyT-R (613989) | about 9 months ago | (#45173205)

available for your home in 1995, only on nintendo ultra64!

Re:Hypocrite. (4, Insightful)

artor3 (1344997) | about 9 months ago | (#45173253)

Mr. MiddleRoad wasn't the one to claim that withholding information is never useful.

Re:Hypocrite. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45174331)

TheMiddleRoad is defending anonymity, so it is perfectly consistent that he uses a pseudonym.

What type of mental retardation is needed to give "insightful" mod points to the "captain obvious" parent post?

Re: Hypocrite. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45173595)

5 Inches and Password123

Re:Is this the right move? (5, Insightful)

YttriumOxide (837412) | about 9 months ago | (#45172969)

When has with holding information 'ever' been the right move?

That depends on the kind of withholding, the period of it and the type of information. I withhold information from the public such as my bank card's PIN, my password, and so on.

I think it's at the very least an arguable case as to whether these researchers should withhold this. By releasing it, there would be a non-zero danger that it would be used for harm with little to no positive gain. The exact value of this non-zero danger vs the value of the positive gain is what they likely thought about before making the decision.

Whether you agree or disagree with their decision, surely you must see the merit in this kind of evaluation?

Re:Is this the right move? (5, Insightful)

Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) | about 9 months ago | (#45173137)

By releasing it, there would be a non-zero danger that it would be used for harm with little to no positive gain.

If it isn't public that severely limits the number of people who can work on finding an antidote. Even if they are making the information available to "qualified professionals" it still substantially increases the barrier to finding a fix. Hell, for all we know, someone else has already seen the same strain and been working on a cure but they only speak chinese and this extra friction to figuring out if they even have the same strain is enough to keep the two groups from collaborating.

Whether you agree or disagree with their decision, surely you must see the merit in this kind of evaluation?

When the day comes that we start seeing terrorists attacking people with obscure scientific journal data instead of simple bombs then the question might be a reasonable one to ask. Until then the question itself is hype and paranoia.

Re:Is this the right move? (5, Insightful)

odie5533 (989896) | about 9 months ago | (#45173299)

It's basically no barrier. If you want to research the strain, you're going to need a sample anyways so you're going to have to correspond with the researchers in some way to get the code and the sample.

Re:Is this the right move? (4, Insightful)

mysidia (191772) | about 9 months ago | (#45173427)

If it isn't public that severely limits the number of people who can work on finding an antidote. Even if they are making the information available to "qualified professionals" it still substantially increases the barrier to finding a fix.

Perhaps this is the intent behind witholding the sequence. They want to give themselves an advantage in finding the antidote, while still publishing their research.

By witholding the sequence, which they have learned ---- they can use it to give themselves a competitive advantage towards also being the first to find the antidote: while the other researchers have to work blindly, with no genetic code to assist them in finding/isolating the new strain or work on identifying an antidote.

Re:Is this the right move? (1)

bunratty (545641) | about 9 months ago | (#45173829)

It's brilliant!

1. Withhold important scientific information
2. ???
3. Profit

Re:Is this the right move? (4, Informative)

cshark (673578) | about 9 months ago | (#45173045)

The only outcome of censorship, logically, is less of whatever it is you are trying to censor. So yes, if the objective is more science, and you would hope it would be, then you do not want the government interfering with it.

Re:Is this the right move? (0, Flamebait)

artor3 (1344997) | about 9 months ago | (#45173259)

That's dumb. We have multiple objectives that we balance. If our objective is "more science" without any other considerations, then we should legalize slavery, human experimentation, and vivisection.

Re:Is this the right move? (2)

cshark (673578) | about 9 months ago | (#45173765)

That's hilarious. Sure, why not throw in a a few more of false dichotomies? Banning censorship in science is like mandating that puppies need to be murdered, and candy should be taken away from children. Why not? Right?

Re:Is this the right move? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45173545)

In 2011, some Dutch scientists created an extremely dangerous variant of bird flu. The details of the process were (of course) not published and we can only hope the mutations don't co-occur by accident, the likelihood that they do is unknown.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/22/health/h5n1-bird-flu-research-that-stoked-fears-is-published.html?_r=0

Right move (1, Insightful)

golodh (893453) | about 9 months ago | (#45173553)

The first question: "when was it ever proper to suppress information" is an easy one to answer.

Ever since the potential damage of releasing information outweighed the potential utility of releasing said information it has been right and proper to keep information under wraps.

Now how about this case?

As the article states, botulism toxin is the most potent toxin we know (as in smallest lethal dose), and what researchers found was a new variant of it to which there is no antidote as of yet.

With the DNA sequence published, anyone with a simple bacteriological lab can produce it. There is a substantial risk that e.g. Al Quaeda (or worse, some home grown terrorist or some disgruntled Harris & Klebold combo or another McVeigh) gets their hands on it and will dump it somewhere in the drinking water supply of a large US city.

What's the risk of suppressing the information? Well, first that it becomes a habit, second that we might delay finding an antidote because we keep the sequence under wraps.

I personally believe that the risk of disclosure is a little too large to allow this particular sequence to be published, and outweighs the risk of suppressing it. So I'm convinced it's better to allow this information to be suppressed than to disallow it to be suppressed.

Let's be thankful that we still have someone able and willing to screen this sort of information and delay or suppress its publication.

Re: Right move (3, Insightful)

O('_')O_Bush (1162487) | about 9 months ago | (#45173811)

Al Queda (boogeymen) could do this with normal botulism and still be effective if what you were stating was practical or if they had any idea how.

Major cities don't keep botulism antidote stockpiles large enough for their entire city nearby, and it stands to reason that if an attack was so trivial, they'd hit many targets at once like they did with airplanes.

That is, withholding or not, we'd be screwed. And there are far more effective ways to cause harm than this if they started being bioterrorists (like reengineering the Spanish Flu from selectively breeding one of several strainst of zoonotic flu floating around).

No, this information was withheld to give the originating scientists lots of time to make more discoveries and papers without competition from peers.

Re:Right move (3, Informative)

cusco (717999) | about 9 months ago | (#45174221)

With the DNA sequence published, anyone with a simple bacteriological lab can produce it.

Not at all. You would need a lab capable of building genes and inserting them into an organism, and there are only a few of those on the entire planet (most of them governmental). If you want to selectively breed the microbe for increased toxicity you can do that in your garage right now and the DNA sequence would be minimal if any help.

Depends On The Likelihood Of An "Antidote" (4, Insightful)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | about 9 months ago | (#45172949)

Considering that there is no antidote for regular botulism, my guess is that this "censorship" is doomed to failure.

Unlike software patches, which may take days or weeks, it looks like it could be years for this. While I'm not a big supporter of giving ammunition to terrorists (just for example), I doubt very much this secrecy will get very far. It usually doesn't. So it looks like a false sense of security ("security theater") to me.

Re:Depends On The Likelihood Of An "Antidote" (2)

sugar and acid (88555) | about 9 months ago | (#45173001)

There is botulism antitoxin to the previously known forms of botulism. In an acute accident of intentional exposure it can be administered to prevent the action of the toxin. So in a research facility that works with botulism for instance, acute exposure can be treated with the antitoxin. Also there has been a great deal of work carried out to develop vaccines to the other forms of botulism.

Re:Depends On The Likelihood Of An "Antidote" (3, Informative)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | about 9 months ago | (#45173041)

"There is botulism antitoxin to the previously known forms of botulism."

According to Wikipedia, it isn't much of an antitoxin. The best it does is prevent the condition from worsening... it is very far from an "antidote".

Re:Depends On The Likelihood Of An "Antidote" (4, Informative)

sugar and acid (88555) | about 9 months ago | (#45173099)

That is because of the action of botulism toxin is close to irreversible, taking months for the body to repair the damage to toxin does to the nervous system. It is why Botox (actually stands for botulism toxin, it's just really watered down to make it safe) has a "semipermanent" action of many months.

The antitoxin does prevent further damage and halts the action of the toxin. Which could be the differences between loss of function of an arm for many months, or respiratory failure. The antitoxin works as well as it could be expected.

There is a vaccine against the toxin itself. This is given to people at high-risk of being exposed to the toxin (researchers, personnel trained to deal with potential bioweapons attack). It probably isn't effective against this new toxin type.

Re:Depends On The Likelihood Of An "Antidote" (4, Insightful)

PSVMOrnot (885854) | about 9 months ago | (#45173389)

You realize this is about the paper. There is nothing to stop his colleagues - who he happens to know have a suitable lab and skills - from calling up and asking for the info. This just lets him choose who gets this dangerous piece of knowledge

Biological warfare (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45172951)

it is extremely dangerous, there is no cure. Supposedly it is relatively easy to create once the DNA sequence is revealed. could be drastic consequences. I say, no don't publish it.

Re:Biological warfare (3, Insightful)

gl4ss (559668) | about 9 months ago | (#45173149)

yeah since the regular botox is so hard to get.... ....

if the new strand stays active in air, powder laying around for longer then I guess it's a problem.

otherwise it just sounds like they're keeping the toy for themselves.

Terrists (3, Funny)

game kid (805301) | about 9 months ago | (#45172953)

Good call! Wouldn't want those highly advanced scientists at al-Qaeda to reproduce it at the gene level or anything.

Re:Terrists (2)

sumdumass (711423) | about 9 months ago | (#45172987)

Yes, because the common ideal that [spiked-online.com] Al Qaeda is a bunch of impoverished religious extremist is so inaccurate.

I couldn't tell if you were being sarcastic or not, but it is true that a lot of terrorist are well educated.

Re: Terrists (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45173429)

But if they are not stupid and uneducated does that mean we should listen to what they are saying?

Re: Terrists (1)

sumdumass (711423) | about 9 months ago | (#45173607)

I don't think it does in any meaningful way. The idea of a terrorist is mostly that it attacks civilian populations instead of governments in order to effect change in governments. That would be like paying attention to the driveling of a mass murder who attacks a school of kids because his pet hamster died or something.

A lot of serial rapist and serial murderers are also educated and intelligent. I can't see myself caring about their corollary on buttered toast or the meaning of life any of them produce. I'm not sure I would even care that his mother didn't love him and daddy never hugged him.

Re: Terrists (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45173799)

> A lot of serial rapist and serial murderers are also educated and intelligent

Though most are butt stupid. I've worked in prison and psychiatric wards. They just don't get away with that many cases, and they get locked up earlier when animal abuse is noticed or where their lack of subtlety makes them far more apparent. The cases that draw national media attention are those involving pretty white women in urban or upper class neighborhoods.

Re: Terrists (1)

Aqualung812 (959532) | about 9 months ago | (#45173833)

You and I might agree this is stupid, but the schools in my town are putting up "enhanced security" doors at the entrances to prevent someone breaking in to do a school shooting.

Of course, there are still a ton of windows that are at ground level & easy to shoot out & walk through. Better get to work on those iron bars.... :-/

Re: Terrists (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45174027)

No, the idea of a terrorist is to give governments a phantom enemy to scare people into accepting more oppression.

The best executed terrorist attacks ever absolutely pale in comparison to the number of casualties inflicted by military and police in the name of control. The enforcement arms of governments are terrorists too. It's all a function of which way the propaganda points.

Re:Terrists (2)

rve (4436) | about 9 months ago | (#45173013)

What, do you mean that there's more to it than just typing over the DNA sequence from a paper and printing the offending protein out on the protein printer?

Re:Terrists (1)

Sabriel (134364) | about 9 months ago | (#45173063)

How close are we to that, anyway?

Re:Terrists (2)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | about 9 months ago | (#45173225)

We're there [nih.gov] , but it's not cheap and there are a lot of limitations. The shapes of the ribosome and its buddies are important for correct folding in many proteins.

Re:Terrists (2)

circletimessquare (444983) | about 9 months ago | (#45173361)

any tactic that depends upon your enemy being stupid is doomed to backfire

Re:Terrists (SIC) (1)

SinisterRainbow (2572075) | about 9 months ago | (#45173445)

The cocaine trade makes more and more sophisticated submarines and not all terrorists are stupid. Twisted, demented, ridiculous? Of course. And it only takes one or two. They have engineers that work for them, why not a chemist or a biologist or...?

We are entering an age of easily printed weapons (including biological), and have been in an age of free information. Until we enter the age of non-insanity we're always going to have to weigh security issues. Is this not the very definition of a potential WMD? Someday soon, if not already, it's going to be easier to make and deploy a virus than it is to make a long range missile with a nuclear payload, that is accurate. More of a threat perhaps than nukes if it's weighed on the damage caused / ease of implementation scale (where harder rating # is larger than an easier one, includes cost, ease of access to knowledge,etc).

Re:Terrists (1)

znrt (2424692) | about 9 months ago | (#45173455)

i would assume alqaeda to have access to the same technology and resources the us government has. however, you don't really need a 0-day disease to launch a biological attack against a populated area to great effect, there is enough nasty stuff laying around to hit the headlines big time, any time. so, yes, this particular case of secrecy is likely for a different reason (which, obviously, is whithheld too).

Re:Terrists (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45173779)

al-Qaeda doesn't worry me about this, they haven't been selling weapons of mass destruction technologies like the fuel-filled snow cones of the third world. *Pakistan* has been building, and selling, nuclear technologies for the last 30 years. What portable, less detectable technology could they sell next, using the "get out of land invasion free" card they've gotten from allowing the US to use their air bases for over-extended wars that they're losing?

I know the scientist... (0, Troll)

TheMiddleRoad (1153113) | about 9 months ago | (#45172959)

It's a national security threat. There are antitoxins to regular botulism. This is something else. Maybe readers will like to see a few million dead? Probably. Readers who think all info should be free are fools.

Re:I know the scientist... (2, Funny)

Required Snark (1702878) | about 9 months ago | (#45173043)

What about the babies? When you're trying to panic the masses, there is nothing like the combination of "dead" and "babies".

So a quick edit.

Maybe readers will like to see a few million dead babies?

See, isn't that much more hysterical? Now you need to learn HOW TO USE THE CAP LOCK KEY.

Re:I know the scientist... (1)

infogulch (1838658) | about 9 months ago | (#45173077)

Awesome! Now we're only half a step until completely uninformed CHAIN MAIL BECAUSE IF YOU DON'T SEND THIS TO ALL YOUR CONTACTS IN THE NEXT 27 SECONDS YOU ARE A MURDERER AND HAVE SURRENDERED YOUR SOUL TO THE DEVIL!!11!11! THINK OF THE MILLIONS OF DEAD BABIES!

Re:I know the scientist... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45173217)

That's called infant botulism. [kidshealth.org] . Californians must like dead babies though since it's most prevalent there.

Re:I know the scientist... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45173309)

Oops, messed the link up.
fixed [kidshealth.org]

Re:I know the scientist... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45173057)

We get a few million dead every year from starvation and other diseases, what's the difference? Those who think information can be kept secret are the real fools.

Re:I know the scientist... (1)

Gavagai80 (1275204) | about 9 months ago | (#45173277)

War criminals should use your defense at their trials. "But your honor, we get a few million dead every year from starvation and other diseases. What's the difference if I round up a million for execution by firing squad?"

Re:I know the scientist... (1)

NickFortune (613926) | about 9 months ago | (#45173401)

War criminals should use your defense at their trials. "But your honor, we get a few million dead every year from starvation and other diseases. What's the difference if I round up a million for execution by firing squad?"

I don't think he's suggesting that shooting civilians is acceptable behavior. He's just pointing out (staying with your metaphor) that withholding the specs for a new bullet won't make much difference in the annual death toll caused by gunshot wounds.

Re:I know the scientist... (1)

NickFortune (613926) | about 9 months ago | (#45173409)

Never mind. I didn't see the AC trolling and thought you were replying to the point above. Fair point in context :)

Re:I know the scientist... (1)

erikkemperman (252014) | about 9 months ago | (#45173075)

It's a national security threat. There are antitoxins to regular botulism. This is something else. Maybe readers will like to see a few million dead? Probably. Readers who think all info should be free are fools.

I see your point, although it is unfair to say that those against censorship on principle will necessarily "like to see a few million dead".

I'm not decided either way on this one, but wanted pointed out that it does work both ways. Withholding this information will also make it less likely for anyone to develop an effective antidote.

Re:I know the scientist... (2)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | about 9 months ago | (#45173247)

Well... normal C. botulinum is BSL [wikipedia.org] -2, but it's plausible that this is BSL-3 or even 4 since no vaccine is available yet. If it is BSL-4, even just temporarily, then there are only a handful of labs in the world that can actually work on it. and about 30% of them are in the US, so the information can be shared without much security risk and still be well-analysed. I would guess they'd be making the sequences available upon request to anyone they deemed trustworthy.

If it's only BSL-3, there are something like two thousand such labs in the US alone, and it's definitely a bottleneck, but I doubt most of those groups would actually care. It's not like revealing the details of a remote execution vulnerability in OpenSSH causes every software developer in the world to offer a hand to fix it!

(Also, points for the Excession sig. A lot of people disfavour it over the others, but it's probably my favourite Culture book.)

Re:I know the scientist... (1)

erikkemperman (252014) | about 9 months ago | (#45173555)

If it is BSL-4, even just temporarily, then there are only a handful of labs in the world that can actually work on it. and about 30% of them are in the US

I am not a biologist, so these version numbers are meaningless to me... But that still reads like 70% unused research capacity.

I would guess they'd be making the sequences available upon request to anyone they deemed trustworthy.

I would hope so, but I am not sure who gets to decide trustworthiness.

(Also, points for the Excession sig. A lot of people disfavour it over the others, but it's probably my favourite Culture book.)

Me too, obviously, although it probably shouldn't be the first Culture book to read. RIP, Iain.

Re:I know the scientist... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45173079)

It isn't necessarily just a matter of poor judgment. There often seem to be elements of narcissism and voyeurism involved as well. They won't care how many die, or who ( as long as it isn't them ), just so long as they can see the information. In that regard it is like the NSA/Snowden matter.

What antitoxins are there? (2)

dutchwhizzman (817898) | about 9 months ago | (#45173101)

What antitoxins are there? Because they seem to be withheld as well. The only "cure" I personally know to heal people and animals that ingested the bacteria is to keep feeding them sugar water with added salts so you can flush the bacteria out of their digestive tract without dehydrating them. They need constant care and attention and possibly artificial respiration and such for days or weeks, until the poison wears off and they get control of their muscles again.

There are plenty of other toxins and bacteria that are known, easily obtainable and at least as big a threat as Botulism. One more won't really matter on a grand scale of things. If you want people to suffer horrible diseases you already have plenty to choose from. By not allowing a new sports car to get on the road "because it's fast and it could kill people if they had a collision with it" you're not suddenly making the streets any safer than they are. Withholding this information won't make people immune to all other harm, or add a significant new threat to the world. I'm all for keeping dangerous knowledge a secret, but this is ridiculous.

Re:What antitoxins are there? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45173189)

There are plenty of other toxins and bacteria that are known, easily obtainable and at least as big a threat as Botulism.

Uh, no? The botulism toxin is the strongest known toxin as far as I know. The only reason ricin (IIRC, at least an order of magnitude less toxic which still puts it in the class of superpoisons) is somewhat more popular for poisoning purposes is that it's ridiculously easy to produce.

Re:What antitoxins are there? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45173379)

Umm botulism is absurdly easy to produce as well. Just bad canned goods can give you a supply.

Re:What antitoxins are there? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45173653)

Canned goods can go bad in a variety of ways, and even if you get the right one, that just gives you traces of botulism toxin. In contrast, washing out ground seed cake from castor oil production with water, letting it dry and extracting the residue with aceton (nail polisher) will give you a solid and reproducible turnout of Ricin from a reasonably available source.

Re:I know the scientist... (1)

Shadow of Eternity (795165) | about 9 months ago | (#45173155)

Yes because terrorists are going to go through all the trouble to use yet another one of a million different biological/chemical attacks they already don't use instead of simple and cheap explosives.

It's Cost Benefit Time (2)

PSVMOrnot (885854) | about 9 months ago | (#45173381)

It's a national security threat. There are antitoxins to regular botulism.

This guy is right, by keeping the DNA Sequence out of the paper it prevent ye-random-crazy from having a go at synthesizing some. On the other hand, it doesn't stop research into cures, because any legitimate researchers can just email or phone the guy.

For those of you who haven't been in academia; part of your job is knowing who the leading guys in your field are. This new stuff is nasty, so it makes sense to secure it behind a 'have I heard of this guy' and 'what has he done lately' check, if only to make sure you don't have an accidental outbreak.

Re:It's Cost Benefit Time (1)

rastos1 (601318) | about 9 months ago | (#45173847)

any legitimate researchers can just email or phone the guy.

How does that work? "Hi, I'm John Smith and I'm legitimate researcher. Can you send me the DNA sequence please?" - something like that?

Re:It's Cost Benefit Time (1)

PSVMOrnot (885854) | about 9 months ago | (#45173973)

any legitimate researchers can just email or phone the guy.

How does that work? "Hi, I'm John Smith and I'm legitimate researcher. Can you send me the DNA sequence please?" - something like that?

More along the lines of "Hi Dr Barash, I'm Dr. Smith. We met at that conference in Florida on terrifyingly deadly diseases last year... No, my colleague Dr Jones was the one who fell in the pool. Anyway, I saw your article on Clostridium botulinum in J. Infect Dis. and have a few ideas; would you be willing to meet and discuss a possible collaboration?".

Re:I know the scientist... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45173435)

Keep on drinking that kool aid. Chemical weapons are terrible, but terribly ineffective. Even terrorism use has shown poor performance. Sarin attacks on a Japanese subway managed to kill only thirteen people in a confined crowded area. Horrible sure, but shooters in less crowded areas kill more in their sprees. Plus the thing about science? It kind of depends on free flow of information.

Re:I know the scientist... (1)

MysteriousPreacher (702266) | about 9 months ago | (#45173551)

Also, according to Wikipedia...

"killing thirteen people, severely injuring fifty and causing temporary vision problems for nearly a thousand others"

Sure, it's ineffective if the be-all and end-all is to kill people. Over a 1000 people affected, to varying levels, and some still psychologically affected today, is far from ineffective. A bunch of people with guns could probably get a higher body count, and would certainly generate a lot of distress. It's just silly though to consider the Tokyo attack as being ineffective.

Re:I know the scientist... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45174023)

Tokyo attack was ineffective. But not because chemical weapons are ineffective. It was ineffective because they didn't mange to properly disperse the sarin. If they had managed to properly disperse the sarin the number of casualties would have been much higher.

Re:I know the scientist... (1)

Rich0 (548339) | about 9 months ago | (#45173503)

It's a national security threat. There are antitoxins to regular botulism. This is something else. Maybe readers will like to see a few million dead? Probably. Readers who think all info should be free are fools.

So, why publish it at all? Seems like the real problem is with the academic system that seems to believe that only published research is useful. Published research that doesn't actually publish anything isn't actually useful for anything but bragging...

Re:I know the scientist... (1)

gl4ss (559668) | about 9 months ago | (#45173511)

care to give us the lowdown on why it's something else?

easier to spread? easier to manufacture?(considering botox is popular as cowdung that can't be hard to manufacture).

more effective than sarin? does this stuff just grow everywhere when let loose?

if you could spread enough of regular botulism, I wouldn't see that people were going to be prepared with antitoxins on the ready.

Re:I know the scientist... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45173893)

care to give us the lowdown on why it's something else?

easier to spread? easier to manufacture?(considering botox is popular as cowdung that can't be hard to manufacture).

Your drinking water probably contains more cowdung than medically applied botox contains botulism toxin. That stuff is thinned down to concentrations making homeopaths proud. It's crazily effective.

Re:I know the scientist... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45174057)

more effective than sarin? does this stuff just grow everywhere when let loose?

Botulism toxin does not grow. The bacteria do, but not under conditions useful for warfare. After all, this is a common food poisoning cause, it's not like the bacteria are outlandish or something.

More effective than Sarin? You bet. Botulism toxin has an LD50 of something like 2 ng/kg when injected (and still 20ng/kg when inhaled), Sarin of 200 g/kg. That's a factor of 100000.

Re:I know the scientist... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45174107)

Botulism toxin has an LD50 of something like 2 ng/kg when injected (and still 20ng/kg when inhaled), Sarin of 200 g/kg. That's a factor of 100000.

THANKS Slashdot for your silent non-support of common non-ASCII characters like "my". 200g/kg would not be impressive for a poison, table salt is more toxic than that. So that should be 200 micrograms/kg for the toxicity of Sarin.

Does it matter? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45172985)

What good would it do if the sequence were released in the paper? Do you really think that your average Joe needs to know it, or would be able to do anything with it? If it's a legitimate research institution that is interested, they can contact those who made the discovery and vet themselves to receive the data.

Fucking Nanny State (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45172991)

This fucking nanny state madness needs to stop. Grow a pair of balls people, life is full of risks, live with it you bunch of fucking cowards.

So instead of say a hundred labs (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45172997)

we now have only one that can look for the antidote, and the others start looking for the new botulism, since they know it exists now.

Re:So instead of say a hundred labs (2)

Optimal Cynic (2886377) | about 9 months ago | (#45173383)

Nope, wrong. If any suitably qualified lab wants to do research on it, all they have to do is call up the authors and ask. If they're actually capable of doing the research they'll get all the withheld information the next day.

The nut of the question is (2)

edelbrp (62429) | about 9 months ago | (#45173121)

How is this different than a software vulnerability and security through obscurity, etc.?

I think to begin with, most software vulnerabilities aren't exploited to cause immediate death of (most likely) innocents. There's also no 'fix' for this (e.g. no software update to everybody's genome, but maybe a vaccine can be developed).

Similar to some other horrible chem/bio/nuke weapon formulas, yes, it should be properly redacted.

Re:The nut of the question is (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45173359)

the sequence is not disclosed (until there are sufficient mutations to suggest that it was "naturally occuring"), because it was (highly likely) manufactured in a WMD-B labratory.
Same way, cia tried to cover up the paper-trail showing that the "arch-terrorist" USAma Bin-Liner-Bill-of-Lading was on the cia payroll.
Wheres the FDA on this one? time to re-calibrate their nano-detectors!
Is this correlated with the recent Canadian beef poison, the MacDonalds and Starbucks food-poisonings????

Re:The nut of the question is (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45173563)

Oh, but this is much worse than a typical computer flaw.
And all humans have this vulnerability built in.
IMHO there is much more reason to control this information than there is for typical computer vulnerabilities.
That way we can prevent at least some vectors of abuse.

irresponsible scientists holding back progress (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45173167)

Don't theese Scientists beleeve in the Evilution!? The moral thing to do heer is to releese this super-dooper-botulism thing, let it infeckt everyone everywhyer, and the natoorlly immoon survivors will EVILOVE into teh NEXT EVILUTION of hoomans. Com on it's so ovbious, peeps!!

Not the first time (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45173195)

At least one case of prior art, papers dealing with some variant of the flu or other.

Re:Not the first time (1)

Zumbs (1241138) | about 9 months ago | (#45173373)

Yup. Here is the Slashdot article Science Panel Recommends Censoring Bird Flu Papers [slashdot.org] . There could be a lot more instances, like, say, biological agents developed for warfare.

Capitalism, not security (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45173211)

They're withholding the DNA so they can develop the cure first.

FUD: DNA != factory process (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45173319)

FUD. How on earth is having a DNA sequence going to magically enable a terrorist in Transylvania to manufacture the organisms?

Yes. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45173475)

It is the right move.

Finding the antidote (1)

jouassou (1854178) | about 9 months ago | (#45173677)

Its DNA sequence has been withheld, until an antidote has been found. [...] Is this the right move?

We arrive at the same question as with security and open source software: if the DNA sequence is withheld, doesn't that reduce the probability of an antidote being discovered?

Re:Finding the antidote (1)

Optimal Cynic (2886377) | about 9 months ago | (#45173727)

No, because any qualified lab can get the sequence by asking. This isn't like software where anyone can have a crack at it, this needs serious levels of equipment and expertise.

Re:Finding the antidote (1)

koan (80826) | about 9 months ago | (#45174227)

"this needs serious levels of equipment and expertise"

Not really it can be done at home for far less then you might imagine, getting a human that understands it is only marginally difficult.

A petri dish, incubator, spray bottle and a sample of feces, isolate the bad bugs add to spray bottle go to town at the market.

I guess it depends (1)

ihtoit (3393327) | about 9 months ago | (#45173959)

...on whether there is legitimate cause to believe that a specific group or individual is planning on weaponising this shit...

Security or IP? (1)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | about 9 months ago | (#45174159)

Maybe they don't want the gene sequence patented by some outside party which could make tests and vaccines harder to access. Prior art wasn't worth shit before, and it's not worth half a shit under the new explicit first-to-file system.

No it is not the right move (0)

koan (80826) | about 9 months ago | (#45174189)

Censorship never is.

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