might provide clues related to the source or produc-tion processes used. The committee found that theseanalyses were appropriate and were carried out properly, and agreed with the FBI and Departmentof Justice that these analyses proved to have limitedforensic value in identifying the source of the anthrax.Researchers also carried out tests to determineif the spores had been weaponized by coating themwith a chemical such as silicon to help the sporesdisperse into the air once the envelopes were opened.Although silicon was present in the letter powders,the committee found no evidence of the intentionaladdition of silicon-based dispersants.
Tracing the Anthrax
There are many different strains of
,each with distinct genetic features, which haveevolved over time. Before the anthrax mailings took place, scientists had developed molecular methodsto search the genes of anthrax spores for markers todifferentiate the various strains. Using these tests,researchers identied the dominant organism inthe letters as the Ames strain of anthrax. Becausethe Ames strain had been widely distributed amonglaboratories around the world for research andcountermeasure development (see box 2), thisnding suggested that the attack material had come,either directly or indirectly, from one of the labora-tories that possessed the Ames strain. Further analysis of the genome sequence of the letter-associated anthrax spores determined that it wasunlikely that this strain had been geneticallyengineered—a concern for investigators who fearedthe strain may have been altered to enhance anti- biotic resistance or to increase virulence.
Searching for the Source
Having determined that the anthrax used inthe letters was the Ames strain, the FBI worked toestablish a repository of Ames strain samples heldin laboratories around the world. In all, 20 laborato-ries provided a total of 1070 samples of Ames strainanthrax stocks to the FBI.To identify the source of the letter materials,researchers searched for a link between the materialrecovered from the letters and samples in the reposi-tory. Microbiologists at USAMRIID had observedthat some spores from the attack material grew to produce bacterial colonies with distinctive appear-ances, different from typical Ames strain anthraxcolonies. These variants were suspected to be theresult of genetic mutations that had spontaneouslyarisen in the attack spore population.Researchers determined the nature of themutations associated with some of the unusualcolonies in the attack material, and then designedtests to search the FBI’s repository of anthraxstocks for samples that contained these samemutations. The tests showed that 8 samples from
Box 2. What is the Ames strain?
The Ames strain of
was rst isolated froma dead cow in Texas in 1981. Texas A & M Universityshipped this new isolate to the United States ArmyMedical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases(USAMRIID) in Fort Detrick, Maryland. Because the box used for the shipment bore a previously-usedAmes, Iowa, address label, the strain became knownas the “Ames” strain. Subsequently, the Ames strainwas shared with laboratories and research institutionsthroughout the United States and the world.
Anthrax powder recovered from the
New York Post
Box 1. What is anthrax?
Anthrax is a disease caused by the bacterium
It is generally a disease of herbivores such ascows and sheep, which acquire the infection by grazingon contaminated soils. Highly resistant toenvironmental degradation,
spores cansurvive for long periods of time in soil, their naturalreservoir. The disease occurs worldwide and there areoccasional outbreaks in livestock in the United States.Humans can acquire
infection via theskin, gastrointestinal tract, or by inhalation. Mostcommonly, this occurs by eating the meat or handlingthe hides of infected animals.
infections caused by the inhalation of
spores are the most lethal. The high mortalityrate, and the fact that with appropriate preparation, prodigious quantities of the spores can be produced andconverted to an easily inhaled powder, mean that
spores are effective agents of biologicalwarfare and bioterrorism.