HIV Legal Precedent Useful for Microbial Forensics

Budowle, Bruce; Harmon, Rockne
August 2005
Croatian Medical Journal;2005, Vol. 46 Issue 4, p514
Academic Journal
The field of microbial forensics was formalized because of the need for attribution in events where a bioweapon has been used. Microbial forensics has its origins in traditional forensics, microbiology, and epidemiology. Microbial forensics can be defined as a scientific discipline dedicated to analyzing evidence for attribution purposes from a bioterrorism act, biocrime, hoax, or inadvertent microorganism/toxin release. This is a very challenging task, since there are myriad microorganisms that can pose a threat, and analytical methods need to be used reliably. The Scientific Working Group on Microbial Genetics and Forensics (SWGMGF) has addressed some quality assurance and control issues, and particularly validation criteria (focusing on preliminary validation) due to the dynamic nature of evolving investigations. Unique identification of a microorganism may never be possible. Yet, qualitative and/or quantitative assessments of the evidence can be made. One approach to provide direction on gaps in the microbial forensics effort is to perform an end-to-end retrospective analysis of past cases. As an example, the case of a gastroenterologist who was accused of second degree attempted murder of his paramour using HIV as the weapon was reviewed. The scientific evaluation involves epidemiology, molecular biology, phylogenetics, and legal deliberations.


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