Kilmacthomas is a small town of some 7,500 inhabitants, not far from Waterford in southern Ireland. In November 2001, the citizens of Kilmacthomas found themselves subject to the same fears that swept communities from Washington, D.C., to Nairobi, Karachi, Beijing, and thousands of other cities, towns and villages across the world. The Waterford News & Star reported, together with the results of the whist drive in Ballylaneen, that the Kilmacthomas post office had been closed after a white powder was found in the mail box. Police, fire department, ambulance and the Army Disposal Unit personnel were called to the scene to make the post office safe. The powder did not contain anthrax but the incident shows how easily the fear of bioterrorism paralyzes communities.

We have always lived in perilous times. Seemingly from nowhere, "new" or new variants of infectious agents have appeared and afflicted human beings. The Spanish flu of the 1918-1919 pandemic killed tens of millions; in 1984, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) was identified as the causative agent of a new disease, acquired immunodeficiency disease syndrome (AIDS); hantavirus pulmonary syndrome caused by the Hanta virus of rodents was first identified in 1993; variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease was first diagnosed in 1996; and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) caused widespread panic in 2003. This list does not include the devastating infections of agricultural plants and animals—the 2001 foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in the United Kingdom led to the slaughter of 11 million animals.

In 1991, Lyme disease was still a "newly emerged" infection; the bacterium responsible had been identified only nine years earlier. In that year, the first in a series of meetings on Lyme disease was held at the Banbury Center of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. It was chaired by Steve Schutzer. It highlighted many diagnostic problems common to other newly emerging infections. How can one diagnose a previously-unknown infection? What laboratory tests can detect an unknown pathogen? This book has its origins in that series of meetings, which by 2000 had metamorphosed to embrace the wider problems of novel infections in plants and animals, as well as human beings. It was during the 2000 conference on Meeting the Challenge of Infectious Diseases in the 21st Century, chaired by Roger Breeze, that two sessions were devoted to "Detection, Identification, Forensics and Diagnosis." Then came the anthrax terrorist attacks of 2001, when genuine threats were followed by many thousands of hoaxes throughout the world. And so it was that the editors of this book—Steve Schutzer, Roger Breeze, and Bruce Budowle, along with other colleagues—organized Banbury Center meetings in 2002 and 2004 to examine forensic approaches to microbial bioterrorism. This was not the first occasion on which forensics had been discussed at Banbury. In 1988, there was what turned out to be an historic meeting examining the early implementation of human DNA fingerprinting. Bruce Budowle was one of the participants in that meeting.

This book tackles many of the issues facing investigators of real or potential attacks employing microorganisms and toxins. How to identify rapidly unknown substances? If there is an outbreak or even just one example of a seemingly new disease, is it naturally occurring? If not, who is responsible? What pathogen is involved? Has it been manipulated in any way? What advice should be given to the officials and to the public? Microbial Forensics takes us from the fundamental biology of pathogenic organisms, through the investigation of suspicious events, to the legal requirements for prosecution should a felony have been committed. Such investigations require expertise in many different fields and the authors of the chapters in the book are acknowledged experts, bringing their knowledge and experience to bear on what continues to be one of the most difficult challenges of the new, post September 11th world. Microbial Forensics provides a much needed resource for all those faced with investigating mysterious white powders and unknown infections.

Jan Witkowski Director, Banbury Center Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory New York

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