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The Hot Zone
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Summer 2000
The Hot Zone
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That such labs are necessary seems to be unquestionable. Nancy Cox, for instance, who is chief of the influenza branch at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, describes Layne's proposal as "the way of the future, no doubt about it." Bill Patrick, former chief of "product development" for the U.S. biomunitions program, responded to a question about whether such labs were necessary with a pithy "My God, yes!" He went on to explain that the present options for successfully dealing with an act of bioterrorism or biowarfare are "essentially zero." According to Patrick, who recently lectured at Layne's course on bioterrorism at the School of Public Health, such automated laboratories would not only provide a mechanism for quickly analyzing the hundreds of thousands of samples that would be collected during such an attack - to characterize the agent or agents and map how widely they had been dispersed-but also a potentially powerful means of deterrence to prevent any nations or terrorist groups from thinking they could get away with such an attack.

Sitting in a café in Santa Monica on a glorious spring afternoon, Layne looks less like a man obsessed with nightmarish visions than an academic version of Nathan Lane, with a tan that comes from thrice-weekly mountain biking jaunts in the Santa Monica mountains. Layne, who is now 45, is describing the unforeseen path he took to end up the resident expert at UCLA in biological apocalypse. He studied medicine at Case Western Reserve but opted out of his internship after three months at UC San Francisco because, he says, the conditions were "not very humane for budding physicians." From there, he meandered. He finished his internship in psychiatry and then moved on to Los Alamos, working on nonlinear dynamics and laser spectroscopy, of all things. That led to two years at Stanford studying applied physics before returning to Los Alamos in the late 1980s to help model the mathematics of AIDS epidemics. The AIDS work was supposed to be a summer stint, but infectious diseases became his career.

In 1992, Layne returned to UCLA to finally finish his internship and residency and, two years later, joined the faculty in epidemiology while simultaneously starting a fellowship in infectious diseases. Based on his formal training, he now considers himself not so much a public-health expert or epidemiologist, but more "an experimentalist who knows a little bit of theory and a little bit of engineering."

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