Plant-pathogenic bacteria as biological weapons - Real threats?

J. M. Young, C. Allen, T. Coutinho, T. Denny, J. Elphinstone, M. Fegan, M. Gillings, T. R. Gottwald, J. H. Graham, N. S. Iacobellis, J. D. Janse, M. A. Jacques, M. M. Lopez, C. E. Morris, N. Parkinson, P. Prior, O. Pruvost, J. Rodrigues Neto, M. Scortichini, Y. TakikawaC. D. Upper

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    13 Citations (Scopus)


    At present, much attention is being given to the potential of plant pathogens, including plant-pathogenic bacteria, as biological weapons/bioterror weapons. These two terms are sometimes used interchangeably and there is need for care in their application. It has been claimed that clandestine introduction of certain plant-pathogenic bacteria could cause such crop losses as to impact so significantly on a national economy and thus constitute a threat to national security. As a separate outcome, it is suggested that they could cause serious public alarm, perhaps constituting a source of terror. Legislation is now in place to regulate selected plant-pathogenic bacteria as potential weapons. However, we consider it highly doubtful that any plant-pathogenic bacterium has the requisite capabilities to justify such a classification. Even if they were so capable, the differentiation of pathogens into a special category with regulations that are even more restrictive than those currently applied in quarantine legislation of most jurisdictions offers no obvious benefit. Moreover, we believe that such regulations are disadvantageous insofar as they limit research on precisely those pathogens most in need of study. Whereas some human and animal pathogens may have potential as biological or bioterror weapons, we conclude that it is unlikely that any plant-pathogenic bacterium realistically falls into this category.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1060-1065
    Number of pages6
    Issue number10
    Publication statusPublished - Oct 2008


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