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The Hot Zone
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Summer 2000
The Hot Zone
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Ask Layne how such labs would be used and he reels off scenarios. For influenza, for instance, researchers around the world could collect hundreds of thousands of samples, have them characterized in the lab quickly and put together a database of trillions of bits of information that would give flu researchers the big picture they so desperately need. "In the short term," he says, "more information means better vaccines. In the long term, you can ask questions about how the flu viruses evolve with time; you can predict whether they'll be virulent; why some viruses jump from animals to humans and how the viruses move from region to region. You can start doing things we just can't do now."

For tuberculosis, automated labs would allow the tracking of tens of thousands of cases of multidrug-resistant TB worldwide and would specify the proper treatment when new cases arise. "With a system you can test individuals and identify quickly whether they have multidrug-resistant TB or not, and treat them appropriately," Layne says.

For bioterrorism and biowarfare, the labs allow for the quick analysis of the enormous number of samples that will be taken during an attack - identifying the agents, specifying the treatments, telling authorities what regions are contaminated, or which city blocks, or even which homes are safe and which aren't. "If this were done for bioterrorism," he explains, "the logical place for such a lab would be at FBI facilities outside of Washington, and that lab could service the whole country. You could also have a lab in a C5 transport, which would make it literally only hours away from anywhere in the country."

As a deterrent, says Layne, such a laboratory would give the authorities the opportunity to collect samples of potential biomunitions from nations throughout the world - whether by overt or covert means - and create a database of the molecular fingerprints of all these potential agents. "Now we could go back to people doing these things," he says, "and we say, 'We have your molecular fingerprints. We're not going to tell you what fingerprints we've got or how we got them, but we want you to know if those agents show up in any wrong place or are sold on the black market, your safety or your freedom cannot be ensured. If those agents ever show up on U.S. territory in the wrong place, we can't assure you'll wake up the next morning.' That's a form of deterrence, and it may be the only form of deterrence we can have."

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