Federation of American Scientists Case Studies in Dual Use Biological Research Module 2.0: Poliovirus Case Study
Topic: De Novo Synthesis of Poliovirus Subtopic: Dual-Use Realization

According to Dr. Wimmer, in the 1990ís when this experiment was conceived, the possibility that it had implications for bioterrorism was not at all obvious.

“To synthesize virus for evil intentions seemed to be ludicrous (at the time) because all viruses that could be used as bioterrorist agents were available either through mail-order or you could isolate them yourself, with the exception of smallpox. To think about bioterrorism and a threat for the security of the US if we synthesized poliovirus was not a prominent thought.”

The real dual-use issue for these experiments lies in the proof of principle that more dangerous biological agents, such as the Ebola virus or Variola virus (the causative agent of smallpox), could in theory be made from scratch. While the genomes of these viruses are much larger than poliovirus and therefore more difficult and time consuming to synthesize, the potential for misuse of DNA synthesis technology and genome sequence information is now clearly defined.

Back Next
Topic History and Biology of Poliovirus De Novo Synthesis of Poliovirus Public Reaction Discussion References Home