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Friday, August 27, 1999 Published at 09:24 GMT 10:24 UK


University in germ warfare research

The work at Aberdeen could help lead to a vaccine for soldiers

Research work for the government's chemical and biological warfare programme is being carried out by scientists at Aberdeen University, BBC Scotland can reveal.

For the past six months experts in the university's genetics department have been working on the genetic manipulation of human antibodies.

BBC Scotland reporter Forbes McFall on the Aberdeen University research
On Thursday, scientists at the Porton Down research facility in Wiltshire are about to begin testing a genetically-modified vaccine for bubonic plague on humans.

The vaccine has been developed in response to fears that British forces could be attacked by countries which are thought to have built up stockpiles of biological weapons.

Defence experts have long suspected that the Iraqi leader, President Saddam Hussein, has developed biological weapons to spread diseases such as anthrax and possibly bubonic plague.

[ image: Scientists are developing antibodies]
Scientists are developing antibodies
Now it has been revealed that Aberdeen University has been playing a part in the research work.

The revelation came after accusations from the Scottish National Party that excessive secrecy surrounded the work carried out by universities.

Bill Harris, Professor of Genetics at the university, said the research, which will continue for the next two years, is safe and carries no health risk.

He said: "We are doing work to provide a product to protect against the plague bacterium.

"We are doing genetic manipulation but we are genetically manipulating human antibodies, not the bacterium itself.

"We genetically manipulate human antibodies so that they effectively protect anyone who is exposed to the bacterium."

Chicken pox

Previously, Prof Harris has done other work for Porton Down, developing antibodies to counter chicken pox and gas gangrene diseases.

The research programme is being carried out on behalf of the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (Dera), the body which runs the top-secret facility in Wiltshire.

The centre had admitted awarding contracts to unnamed British universities to do research involving genetic modification.

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