Sarin Gas and Biological Weapons

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Get to know Sarin Gas

Sarin or GB, are organoposphorous compounds with formula (CH3) 2CHO] CH3P (O) F. It is a colorless and odorless liquid that is used as a chemical weapon with extreme effects that has the potential to damage the nervous system. This Sarin gas has been classified as “Mass Killer Weapons” in UN Resolution 687. This Sarin Gas production and storage has been banned by the Weapon Chemical Conventions in 1993 where it was classified to level 1 chemicals.

The mechanism of action of Sarin gas is similar to commonly used insecticides, such as Malathion. In terms of biological activity, it resembles carbamate insecticides such as Sevin and pyridostigmine drugs, neostigmine, and physostigmine. Like other nervous system destroyers, Sarin attacks the nervous system.

In particular, Sarin is a potential inhibitor of the acetylcholinesterase enzyme, a protein that decreases the neurotransmitter acetylcholine after being released into the synaptic cleft. In vertebrates, acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter that is used at the neuromuscular junction (nerve joints between the muscles), where the signal is sent between neurons from the central nervous system muscle fibers. Usually, acetylcholine is released from neurons to stimulate muscles, after which it is degraded by acetylcholinesterase, which allows muscles to relax (not working). A buildup of acetylcholine in the synaptic cleft, due to inhibition of cholinesterase, where the neurotransmitter continues to act on muscle fibers, so that each nerve impulse is effectively continuously channeled. Death usually occurs as a result of asphyxia (shortness of breath) because of the inability of the function of the muscles involved in breathing.

Sarin is a substance that has high volatility (a liquid that can easily turn into a gas), very similar to other nerve gases. Inhaling is very dangerous, and even the steam can easily penetrate the skin. A person’s clothes can release sarin about 30 minutes after making contact with sarin which he can be exposed to in others. A person who breathes a harmless dose, but he is not immediately given adequate treatment, can suffer permanent nerve damage.

Even at low concentrations, Sarin can be fatal, death will occur one minute after breathing a dangerous dose unless antidotes such as atropine and pralidoxime are quickly given to the victim. Sarin is estimated to be 500 times more toxic than cyanide. The initial symptoms of exposure to sarin are runny nose, tightness in the chest and narrowing of the pupils. Immediately after, the victim has difficulty breathing and experiences nausea and continues to salivate. So the victim continues to lose control of bodily functions, victims of vomiting, defecation and urination. This phase is followed by chasing and jerking. In the end, the victim became coma and suffocated in a series of severe convulsions.

Sarin gas was discovered by Dr. Gerhard Schrader from Germany and developed as a pesticide in Germany in 1938. But during World War II, Nazi war scientists realized that they could use these chemicals into chemical weapons. However, due to the considerably dangerous effects, this substance was not used in World War II.

Sarin was famous after being used by Saddam Hussein’s regime to thousands of Kurds in northern Iraq City, Halabja in 1988. An estimated 5,000 people were killed.

In April 1988, Iraq also used this gas against the Iranian army. It is this gas that helped Iraq take over the al-Faw Peninsula.

In 1994, a sect in Japan, Aum Shinrikyo used this compound in Matsumoto, Nagano. Causing the death of 8 people and injuring 200 others. The sect again used this gas at the Tokyo Metro in 1995 and killed 13 people.

Effects of Biotechnology on the Advancement of Biological Weapons

Biological weapons are often referred to as “nuclear weapons of the poor”. The costs and technology needed to make biological weapons are far lower and easier than nuclear or chemical weapons. However, the effect of mass destruction was no less severe than the two weapons. According to the Office of Technology Assessment calculations at the American Congress in 1993, 100 kg of Bacillus anthracis spores distributed over the capital city of Washington could cause 3 million lives. In reality, the spread of similar bacteria from the Russian biological weapons installation in the city of Yekaterinburg on April 2-3, 1979 has killed tens of thousands of people in the surrounding area according to the Union for Chemical Safety report, although only 66 official government reports (Graeves , 1999).

Unlike nuclear weapons, biological weapons have many types. Although chemical weapons also have many types (such as sarin gas, VX gas, cyanide etc.), because biological weapons use biological agents such as viruses and bacteria, the numbers tend to increase with the emergence of various new fatal infectious diseases such as the Ebola virus, Lassa virus and others -other. However, agents that are properly used as biological weapons are bacteria that have long been known to humans, are easily available in nature and are not difficult to handle. Bacillus anthracis, the cause of anthrax is the main choice and has been proven to be used in recent incidents in America and tried to be made in Russia and Iraq. In addition, the deadly bacteria recorded as a biological weapons agent is Yersinia pestis, the cause of PES disease, Clostridium botulinium, whose toxin causes botulism, Francisella tularensis (tularaemia) and others. On the other hand, because the pathogenic bacteria have been known for a long time, the treatment is known by various antibiotics and prevention can be done by vaccination.

What is actually more terrible is biological weapons with agents that have been biotechnology engineered so that they are antibiotic resistant, more deadly, stable in storage and so on. The easiest is engineering for the nature of resistance to antibiotics. This nature is usually only caused by a collection of simple genes or even a single gene, so that it is easily transferred from one type of bacteria to another. This technology has also become a standard in every molecular biology experiment. Bacillus anthracis which can be turned off with antibiotics of the Penicillin type can easily be made resistant by transferring the enzyme lactamase. Biopreparat, a network of biological weapons manufacturing installations in Russia, is rumored to have engineered pes-causing bacteria with resistance to 16 types of antibiotics.

Another possible engineering method is technology called “directed evolution” (directed evolution). This method was first developed in 1994 by Dr. Willem Stemmer is a researcher in a biotechnology company, Maxygen based in the city of Redwood, California. Methods that are based on random exchange of DNA fragments, or DNA shuffling, are first applied to a single gene that codes for a protein. But then it was developed for a larger level, namely the collection of genes to the genome. Stemmer, who is currently vice president of the company, has succeeded in engineering the bacteria Escherichia coli, which has resistance to Cefotaxime antibiotics, 32 thousand times higher. Current knowledge of the complete sequence of genomes of various pathogenic bacteria such as causes of tuberculosis, cholera, leprosy, etc., will further facilitate the engineering of bacteria with greater killing power, using this method.

Although the two stories above are just scenarios, they are no longer a dream. The research results of the CSIRO-Australia research team led by Dr. Ronald J. Jackson, published in the February 2001 issue of the Journal of Virology, provides a clear picture. The research team genetically engineered the mousepox virus to control rat fertility. This virus is not so dangerous, but when both of them also insert the interleukin-4 protein gene, the mousepox becomes very deadly. Though the aim is only to increase the efficiency of the virus to reduce the fertility of mice by increasing the production of antibodies to their own eggs. This unexpected result has shocked the scientific community because the mousepox virus is a close relative of the smallpox virus that causes smallpox. You can imagine this technology is very likely to be applied to the smallpox virus which was ranked first in its level of danger as a biological weapon.

Prohibiting Biological Weapons

Agreements at the international level that prohibit the use of biological weapons began in the Geneva Protocol in 1925. However, history shows that the development of biological weapons continues. One documented example is the use of biological weapons by Japanese soldiers in World War II in China. For this reason, in 1972 a Biological and Toxin Weapon Convention (BTWC) agreement was agreed to which was sponsored by the United Nations. In this agreement, it is further emphasized about the “prohibition in the development, manufacture and storage of all types of biological weapons”. Until now no less than 140 countries have signed this agreement, including Indonesia, America and Russia.

However, the main weakness of the BTWC is that there is no mutual agreement for supervision and verification, so this agreement is similar to “lions without teeth”. Russia and Iraq have been proven to develop biological weapons despite participating in signing the agreement. This led to the establishment of the Ad Hoc group in 1995 to makeinspection and verification protocol in the field. Initially, the United States fully supported the work of the Ad Hoc committee through President Clinton’s 1998 statement. However, at the end of the protocol was almost complete, the attitude of America under President Bush’s government turned around completely by not only rejecting the protocol but also threatening to get out of the agreement. This attitude is reminiscent of America’s move out of the Kyoto agreement on reducing carbon dioxide emissions or intercontinental missile agreements.

The main reason put forward by the Americans in July 2001 was that they were unhappy with routine or sudden inspections of all military, academic or industrial installations related to this weaponry, which might have caused trade secrets to leak. In addition, Americans are concerned that existing protocols can endanger the trade in weapons and related technology. As reported in the journal Nature Biotechnology, until now America is the most relevant technology exporter, in the world. In 1994 alone, there were 531 licenses sold abroad. This rejection policy was strongly supported by the American pharmaceutical industry association (PHRMA).

On the other hand, America is strengthening domestic readiness for attacks by biological weapons. The disclosure of the secret programs of Russia and Iraq and the creation and spread of Bacillus anthracis by the cult of the cult Aum Shinrikyo in Japan in 1995, has triggered it. In 1999, the American Congress allocated 111 million dollars to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to strengthen early detection and treatment systems for the dangers of biological weapons (Khan, 2000). In connection with that in April 2000, the CDC has issued recommendations for strategic measures to deal with the attack of biological weapons by forming a network of laboratories throughout America. Not only at the level of civilians, America has also prepared itself for its military strength. For example by giving anthrax vaccines to all military personnel (Fidler, 1999).

In the end, the BTWC endorsement that was due to be held at the 5th Review Conference meeting in Geneva, Switzerland on 19 November – 7 December 2001, failed. According to the President of the Conference, Tibor Toth from Hungary, actually had 98% of the road to the BTWC signing passed smoothly. Many parties, assessing America’s rejection is the main cause of this failure. In the end it was decided to postpone the agreement as soon as possible again.

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