The National Research Council has released a report about the need to broaden our fear of the bioterror threat — we shouldn’t just worry about smallpox and anthrax and other established infectious diseases, but begin to include new, hypothetical threats based on the latest research. The MIT Technology Review asks, Can Terrorists Hijack Your Brain?
Scientists who drafted the report were also particularly concerned about the potential of bioregulators — small, biologically active organic compounds that can regulate different systems in the body. Newer technologies such as targeted delivery methods that zero in on the immune or neuroendocrine systems could make it easier to use bioregulators in insidious ways.
Terrorists could also co-opt relatively new technologies, such as synthetic biology, which aims to build organisms that can detect or produce chemicals or perform other functions; and RNA interference, a technique that allows scientists to easily control gene expression.
In the meantime, there are some simple things we can do to defend ourselves and placate these concerned scientists. Already, emergency rooms in New York City are linked and monitored for spikes in presentations of cough, rash or altered mental status.
In that spirit, we should all share observations — perhaps online or over the phone — of people who seem unusually irritable, or emotional, or distant. Then, inform Homeland Security. Because these strange people may be under the influence of a terrorist plot.
In fact, the next time an Orange Alert makes you jittery, ask yourself: Is this really me, or have I been exposed to aerosolized caffeine?
More from the National Academies Press…