A deadly virus has been made from scratch using standard laboratory equipment, an internet recipe and DNA freely available from mail-order companies.
Researchers from the State University of Stony Brook in New York said they wanted to show how easily lethal diseases could be developed by bioterrorists. They said the polio virus they made was not substantially different from the wild form. It was able to replicate and when injected into laboratory mice caused paralysis and death. In principle it would be possible to use the same procedure to make far deadlier but more complex viruses, such as smallpox, which could wreak havoc if they were to fall into the hands of terrorists.
It is the first time scientists have constructed a lifeform from its genome – the genetic recipe written in its DNA.
But other researchers have questioned the usefulness of the achievement. Clarence Peters, from the University of Texas Medical Centre, said: "We've known it was just a matter of time before it was done. I don't think this has been very helpful."
The polio virus was made over a period of two years by Jeronimo Cello, Aniko Paul and Eckard Wimmer of Stony Brook's School of Medicine. They used information from a public database and a DNA-synthesis company to supply some of the polio genes.