USF must account for its biological agents

Resources intended for research, but which have the potential to be used as weapons, have forced the USF Biosafety Institute to comply with a new federal mandate.

President George W. Bush’s mandate to help prevent bioterrorism has required USF and thousands of institutes to report the possession of all biological agents to the government.Biological agents including microorganisms, viruses or bacteria became a concern for national security following the terrorist attacks.

The possibility of the United States’ resources being used to threaten the public called for a Homeland Security action from the government on whereabouts of biological agents and toxins. On June 12, Bush passed the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002, which was Bush’s plan to improve the United States’ ability to prepare for any public health emergency. And there was no doubt that USF would be required to comply along with 190,000 research institutes in the nation.

Farah Moulvi, USF’s institutional biosafety officer, said scientific researchers at USF and thousands of other institutions have been required during the past month to verify the presence of any biological agents that they possess. Inventory checklists from USF faculty were submitted Monday to USF’s biosafety committee so they could then be passed on to the Centers for Disease Control.

“The overall purpose is to improve the ability to prevent and respond to acts of bioterrorism,” Moulvi said. “The inventory procedure is to document the possession of all agents we have.”

Although the biological agents are considered a threat to the public health of humans and animals, Moulvi said USF’s possession of these sources are unlikely to be used as weapons.

“We have such a minute quantity it would be hard to use as a weapon,” Moulvi said.

Scientific researchers at USF had 20 days to take inventory of the biological agents in their possession. Moulvi said all checklists met USF’s deadline and will now be evaluated before they are sent the CDC.

Due to security concerns, Moulvi couldn’t divulge how many biological agents USF possesses or where they are located.

Sept. 12 is the deadline. Bush has called for facilities nationwide to provide the CDC with the notification of agents in their possession.

But even before the anthrax scares and concern for bioterrorism, access to the biological agents for USF researchers was strictly regulated and controlled, Moulvi said.

“Each time they begin a new project they have to notify us,” Moulvi said. “And each project is reviewed in detail.”

Biological materials, such as the microorganisms and viruses, can be used by researchers as a method of detection for community threats such as the anthrax attacks, Moulvi said.

But researchers cannot receive any resources until they have the proper registration.

“They have to be registered with the CDC. Nothing can be shipped from vendors without their approval,” Moulvi said.

And a combination of security has been enforced at USF’s institution to prevent the loss of biological possessions.

“Whether it be a electronic keypad permitting entry or the police we have eyes out there watching them,” Moulvi said.