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News Briefs

Firms Work to Speed Identification of Microbes
NEWSDAY -- Biotechnology companies across the United States are involved in a wide array of efforts to defuse bioterrorism by quickly identifying at the scene the agents used in an attack.

One device newly in use by the federal government and scheduled for broader public use by the end of the year allows for on-the-spot DNA fingerprinting of organisms used in bioterrorism.

The device, which looks like a car battery, is capable of performing one of molecular biology’s gold standard tests: polymerase chain reaction, or PCR. This form of biological analysis is used by labs to produce accurate DNA fingerprints of criminal suspects. And with similar accuracy, PCR can provide the DNA fingerprints of killer microbes, scientists say.

Manufactured by Cepheid Inc., in Sunnyvale, Calif., the portable DNA analyzer was developed with the aid of a $5 million grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, DARPA, best known as the early developer of the Internet.

Cepheid officials would not confirm yesterday whether several of the devices have been taken to the war theater in Afghanistan for quick microbial analysis in the event troops are attacked by biological weapons.

“I can only say the system has been made available and is in the hands of various government agencies,” said Cepheid spokeswoman Yvonne Blaxter. People who use the device need no more than a basic background in high school biology. Another device on Cepheid’s drawing board would not require even that much education.

Iraq Seeks Anthrax Tests On Two Letters

THE WASHINGTON POST -- Iraqi diplomats in New York and Washington have asked American authorities to test two letters containing white powder for contamination with anthrax spores, U.S. and Iraqi officials say.

U.S. diplomats said they suspect the Iraqi government is the target of a hoax but that federal and local law enforcement authorities haven’t provided a definitive explanation of what was in the letters.

A U.S. official said the U.S. mission to the United Nations expected to receive an official response from the New York Police Department on the results of its tests as early as Tuesday.

A State Department official, saying he was unaware of the anthrax concerns at the Iraqi interest section in Washington, referred calls to the FBI. Calls to the FBI press offices in New York and Washington on Monday night were not returned.

The episode provided an unusual twist in the ongoing anthrax scare. Some observers, citing Iraq’s weaponization of anthrax in the late 1980s, have suggested Baghdad may be a source of anthrax spores in letters to media and government officials in Washington, New York and Florida. But there is no evidence Iraq obtained the strains of anthrax bacteria found recently in the United States, and the FBI has said it has found no link among the letters, Iraq and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Congress Moves Closer To Anti-Terror Bill
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- washington

Answering President Bush’s call for new tools to fight terrorism, Congress is moving to help U.S. authorities choke off the flow of illicit money through domestic and international financial systems.

The money laundering legislation on the verge of approval this week enjoys overwhelming bipartisan support in the House and the Senate.

And banking industry lobbyists, who quietly had expressed concern about the impact on their privacy-conscious customers, might be ready to acquiesce to new rules.

If so, that is good news for the Bush administration as it tackles the exceptionally complex challenge of detecting, blocking and seizing money that finances global terrorist networks such as the al-Qaida group believed to be responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.

The administration’s point man on money laundering, Jimmy Gurule, undersecretary for enforcement at the Treasury Department, pleaded for help Monday at a conference on the subject in Arlington, Va., organized by the American Bankers Association and American Bar Association.

Gurule said the legislation before Congress, if enacted, would represent the most significant milestone in the fight against money laundering since it was made a federal crime in 1986.

Embryo Found in Dinosaur Egg

THE WASHINGTON POST -- A North Carolina State University graduate student has discovered the nearly hatched remains of a dinosaur embryo inside an egg found 30 years ago by three high school students in Alabama.

Scientists at the time were unable to figure out what was inside the egg, and it languished at Auburn University until North Carolina State’s James Lamb borrowed it for a research project and noticed three tiny leg bones through an aperture that had been cut in the egg.

Using a technique called computed tomography, he scanned the egg and found that it contained fossilized yolk as well as the remains of what he described as the 83-million-year-old embryo of a Lophorhothon, a duck-billed dinosaur that lived in prehistoric Alabama.

Discussing his findings at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology early this month, Lamb suggested the egg yolk may provide new insights into the ancient creature’s diet: “We know this guy was a vegetarian,” Lamb said. “But it’s possible that isotopes will tell us if his mother ate ferns, conifers or hardwood vegetation.”