- Paperback: 376 pages
- Publisher: Columbia University Press; 1 edition (February 14, 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0231133472
- ISBN-13: 978-0231133470
- Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.8 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 2 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,560,923 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Agents of Bioterrorism: Pathogens and Their Weaponization 1st Edition
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Careful editing gives it uniformity and reflects an insightful approach to the subject matter... Highly recommended. (Choice)
An important, scholarly study. (Bookwatch)
About the Author
Geoffrey Zubay is professor of biology at Columbia University. He has published more than 150 research papers and several books, including Biochemistry; Genetics; and Origins of Life on the Earth and in the Cosmos.
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The book is supposed to be a contribution to bioterrorism, so one would expect the book would consider topics of interest or relevance to those concerned with bioterrorism. The agents are all considered dangerous and are only available to recognized laboratories, so how does the bioterrorist get hold of them? What resources are needed to propagate the agent and how to obtain them? How is the bioterrorist to to protect himself? How are the agents to be collected, processed, and made ready for an attack (weaponized?) How are they to be used? Are these questions recognized and answered? Not entirely, and these are serious omissions for a book with a fly leaf saying the book is also useful for safety officials, policy makers and concerned citizens.
After an introductory chapter, each of the next 12 chapters deals with a specific pathogen or group of pathogens. Ten are from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) list of possible biological agents, and two additional ones: influenza virus and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) virus. Approximately half of the agents are viruses, and the others are bacteria. There is no mention of Rickettsia or fungi and no discussion of anti-crop or anti-livestock agents.
The chapters have a unifying structure: some discussion and history of the disease, a section labeled "molecular biology" (apparently all biology is molecular biology to the authors), diagnosis and treatment, weaponization, and defenses.
The opening sections suffer from the enthusiasm of the young writers coupled with a shaky grasp of history. For example, the chapter on flaviviruses fails to mention Yellow Fever (after which the genus is named), and its role in confounding human activities in the tropics, including handing Napoleon a major defeat. Some of the discussion is a little too a posteriori. There is also little in the way of concession to the non-scientific reader. Many terms go undefined in the text and the glossary is quite inadequate. For example, the chapter on Hantaviruses could explain that Clethrionomys glareolus is a bank vole and the chapter on anthrax could mention how the R400 bombs loaded with the agent were to deliver it. On the other hand, there is also a lack of critical thought. For example, the old chestnut about plague infected corpses being catapulted into the fort of Caffa when it was under siege is repeated. The flea vectors would have left the body as soon as it died. Those that infected the fort were most likely brought in by rats. I'm also waiting for someone to explain to me how two such different viruses as smallpox and Venezuelan equine encephalitis could be combined into a chimeric virus that would retain the pathogenic traits of both viruses.
The sections on the molecular biology are extensive reviews of the most recent developments in the molecular biology of these organisms. These sections drown us in information, but starve of us of knowledge as they are essentially irrelevant to the concept of the biological weapon. The most important information needed on the offensive and defensive sides of bioterrorism is not at the cutting edge. It is rather old-fashioned information on nutritional requirements, growth conditions and preservation, and approved treatments for infections and their complications. This is the meat and bread of textbooks of medical microbiology and infectious disease. Descriptions of the replicative cycles of viruses, or the organization of the pathogenicity islands of Yersinia pestis do not help the terrorist grow and use the agent, nor do they really help those involved in the response decide upon courses of action. There is a lot of interesting information, but it needed to be edited with a strong hand to focus on the strengths and weaknesses of the agents in the context of their use as weapons.
Sections on diagnosis and treatment are informative and useful, but again could have benefitted from better editing and there could be more emphasis on public health responses. Sections on weaponization are repetitive and could have been omitted from the chapters and replaced with an appendix. The chapter on anthrax omits the very important case of Larry Wayne Harris and how he obtained a pathogenic isolate of Bacillus anthracis.
There are four appendices dealing with drug and vaccine development, personal preparedness and information resources. The appendix on drug development is confused and spends a lot of time talking about unproven approaches or the technologies associated with them. It avoids the serious problem of nobody willing to put the time, money, and effort into developing treatments for agents that are unlikely to be used, even with offers of government funding such as the US Project BioShield. The appendix on vaccines is a useful overview and that on personal preparedness is a rehash of information available elsewhere. The appendix on information resources is more entertaining than I think the authors meant it to be. PubMed is not exactly the premier resource on bioterrorism. That honor goes, in my opinion, to ProMed: a moderated mailing list monitoring outbreaks of disease worldwide that is overseen by some of the most significant figures in medical microbiology and infectious disease.
The glossary is incomplete and even some of the definitions are inadequate and the index is a little brief. It would be nice if terms in the glossary showed some correspondence with the index.
Overall, this book has little to recommend it to anyone concerned about bioterrorism as something that could have a concrete impact on a society. It could have benefitted from a more focussed philosophy, firmer editing, and a focus on science rather than molecular biology. Someone looking for a review of the molecular biology of these organisms will find a set of reasonable reviews. Safety officials, policy makers and concerned citizens looking for guidance will do better with "Chemical and Biological Warfare: A Comprehensive Survey for the Concerned Citizen" by Eric Croddy.
Needless to say, the research community has spent a lot of time investigating the possible pathogens from the standpoints of its history, molecular biology, pathology, clinical presentation, diagnosis, weaponization and defenses. This book is basically a report on a dozen of these agents: anthrax, encephalitis, botulism, ebola, tularemia, salmonella, the plague, smallpox, influenza, SARS, hantavirus, cholera.
This material was originally orginazed for a college sminar course on microbiology and bioterrorism. In addition there are chapters of a more general nature on the philosophy, impact, biodefense, vaccines and even personal biodefenses. The chapter on each agent is written by a different specialist, but written to a common standard.
This is the most detailed look at these agents available to the general public.