UNT’s Budowle describes investigation of bacterial, viral attacks

“I assume you’re all here because you’re budding bioterrorists.”

Despite beginning his presentation with a bit of levity, Bruce Budowle, Ph.D., executive director of the Institute of Applied Genetics at the University of North Texas, discussed the grave and emerging threat of bioterrorism Monday morning.

Budowle worked for the FBI for more than 25 years and was one of the primary architects behind the Combined DNA Index System, a national database of genetic criminal evidence.

“We use science to be somewhat more objective when analyzing evidence,” Budowle said. “Forensics is a more reliable witness than personal observations (from eyewitnesses).”

He compared the readiness of first responders to address biological attacks to car insurance, in that the hope is that it remains unused.

“We don’t prepare for catastrophic events because we expect them to happen, but because the consequences are so dire,” Budowle said.

Rick Lewis, a doctoral student in criminal justice concentrating on forensics and genetics, attended the lecture and came away impressed.

“The entire presentation was extremely informative,” Lewis said. “This program in particular was good considering how diverse CJ is. The focus on science and forensics really struck a chord with me.”

In addition to contemporary acts of bioterrorism, including the 2001 anthrax attacks on U.S. senators which he personally worked on, Budowle also outlined the history of biological warfare, from nerve gases used in World War I all the way back to the ancient Romans.

“The Romans didn’t know what caused it,” Budowle said. “But they knew if you threw dead bodies into an enemy’s well, it would poison the water supply.”

Budowle wrapped up his talk by describing his work for the FDA during the mad cow scare in late 2003. Although that event was natural in origin, his experience segued into an explanation of the threat agroterrorism (attacks on a population’s food supply) can pose.

“It’s not about killing animals,” he said. “It’s about disruption and causing fear to bring a people to its knees.”

Budowle visited as part of the Beto Chair Lecture Series, a program established in 1988 to invite preeminent criminologists to the SHSU College of Criminal Justice for presentations on their given expertise.

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