BOSTON--(BUSINESS WIRE)--A doctoral dissertation written recently by Lawrence Roberge to complete his Ph.D at Atlantic International University (AIU), warns that invasive (or non-indigenous) species can be used as unique forms of biological weapons. The United States Department of Agriculture defines invasive species as non-native to an ecosystem and likely to cause environmental, health or economic harm.
In the hands of a rogue nation, terrorists, or an individual bent on destruction, an invasive species could have an affect similar to better known potential biological weapons such as smallpox or anthrax. Roberge, currently an associate professor of Anatomy & Physiology at Laboure College in Boston, MA, explores multiple threats posed by invasive species including:
- Feral pigs can be used to carry the Nipah virus and spread disease to humans, cattle and wildlife.
- The heartwater pathogen, a microbe that can cause heart and pulmonary edema, and carried by the tropical bont tick, can kill deer, cattle or other wildlife, and potentially be transmitted to humans.
- Striga, a plant parasite that can destroy corn crops, and subsequently devastate commodity markets and bio-fuel production.
- Barberry plants that are eaten by birds whose droppings spread wheat stem rust, which can cause a decline or destruction of wheat production.
Roberge’s research for AIU, which is based in Honolulu, HI and specializes in distance learning, builds upon ongoing studies by researchers at colleges and universities, the U.S. government and ecological research centers. Roberge began his research by examining if this type of threat was possible and realized it was a clear and present danger. He says that invasive species could be used to selectively destroy parts of a society potentially causing fear, social chaos, food shortages, and other forms of mass destructions.
A nation in this state would be vulnerable, and perhaps unable to respond, to an outright attack. “We must prepare for the use of invasive species as biological weapons,” says Roberge. “These types of weapons are inexpensive to produce and hard to detect immediately, so they can cause extensive damage before they can be controlled.”
The dissertation also examines ways to prevent and prepare for an attack from invasive species. Roberge suggests:
- Creation of a database of biocontrol agents and services such as predators, pathogens and parasites of these organisms, currently available or under development, which could be used to destroy an invasive species.
- Expansion of rapid global reporting systems for invasive species to help scientists detect early warning signs of an attack.
- Genomic mapping research for known and high risk, non-indigenous organisms, in order to quickly identify a genetically engineered organism, which would strongly indicate the possibility of an attack.
Roberge’s doctoral dissertation is entitled “Introduced Species as a Biological Weapon.”
(Roberge is continuing his research on non-indigenous species and their potential use as biological weapons as well as biodefense).