Could European E-Coli be a Biological Weapons Attack?

I am not suggesting it is, I am not saying it’s likely, but whenever something like this happens I wonder “what would a biological attack look like?”

After all, the NATO countries are currently going after Libya, and there is a chance that Libya could have the capability for biowarfare products.

I presume the attacker would not publicly admit to doing so, given the repercussions, but they could enjoy some benefits from an attack (national distraction, etc.)

So my question is do you think it is possible, likely, and would it look like this if it were perpetrated?


Would the forum moderators kindly add a “C” to the title so as to lessen the appearance of my stupidity.

Thank you.

A bioweapon that can be neutralized by something as simple as cooking doesn’t seem very efficient. Something contagious would make more sense.

I don’t think it likely that it is a deliberate biological attack but it’s certainly done a lot of economic harm to vegetable growers, so it’s effectiveness in causing damage is obvious.


“Terrorism” doesn’t have to be efficient, nor make sense, to be effective.

That’s the thing, how do you know what’s happening is a purposeful attack of just a bit of bad luck? This applies to bio terrorism, cyber attacks and all sorts of stuff like this.

What if I ran a shipping company? What if I made money hauling carrots up from Italy? What if I tossed some E Coli into a couple of trucks loads of Spanish (or now German) vegetables?

What if I released a couple of shoeboxes of fruit flies into California?

Are these attacks? How can you tell?

For starters, you just posted you’re dastardly deeds on the Internet.

But that’s the whole point of terrorism. Industrial sabotage is anonymous for the opposite reason.

[Donning my paranoia-inducing tinfoil hat]

Could it be the Rajneeshees? OK, maybe not them, since they’re defunct, but perhaps some similar group? You might note that initially the Rajneeshee attack was not thought to be a deliberate attack, at least by most authorities (the locals were definitely suspicious).

If it were Libyans, you’d think it would be spread over a wider area of Europe than just part of northern Germany. Unless this is just a test and the full scale attack will be underway soon…

[doffing the tinfoil, back to non-paranoia]

Terrorists want you to know when they have attacked you. The point of terrorism is not to kill, as such, or even to spread fear and confusion in general, it is to make you afraid of them. If you don’t know who is doing it, or if anyone is doing it, it is pointless. Indeed, terrorists are much more likely to claim responsibility for death and destruction for which they are not responsible, than to cause it without telling anyone.

It does no good to Gadaffi (or whoever) if a few European civilians die. It might do him some good if European civilians think he has the power to kill them.

So, no. If this were an attack, the attackers would have told us.

I have this image of a fat teenage kid working away in his bedroom to produce something which will attack systems and cost millions before it’s fixed. And doing it just for the fun of it.

No, that could never happen. I have a warped mind.

I think it unlikely for another reason: if the DNA of an organism has been tinkered with in a lab, it apparently leaves certain traces that can be detected by the next lab, and so far, there has been no announcment. Now, they might not say so to keep the population calm - but I highly doubt that for several reasons.

In the past, whenever there was an outbreak of unusual intensitiy or disease, labs issued a declaration on how the new strain likely came about, and often they also said that they had looked at if this had been done deliberatly, and found no evidence.

True, you could dump a load of raw sewage on a box of cucumbers - and the globalized market would distribute them far and wide. But you wouldn’t get that particular strain; when they originally quick-tested four cucumbers, two of them from Spain, they found E.coli, but intensive testing then showed it to be a different strain. Same for the organic sprouts from Germany - false alarm, culprit is still not found.

Of course its not a biological weapons attack. Who needs a deliberate biological attack when basic human agricultural practices and E. coli’s intrinsic ability to take up foreign DNA are perfectly capable of generating nasty toxin-producing outbreak strains all on their own?

One of my drinking buddies is one of the guys currently sequencing the outbreak strain (a draft sequence has already been generated by some Chinese researchers). Its a semi-nasty strain that’s been seen previously (he has isolates in his freezer) that acquired the gene to produce Shigella toxin by a horizontal gene transfer event, making it REALLY nasty.

These types of outbreaks due to gene swaps and poor agricultural sanitation happen all the time.