As I mentioned in my previous post, DNA played a central role in tying Army researcher Dr. Bruce Ivins to the anthrax letters of 2001. Having read this widely in recent reports of Dr. Ivins’ suicide, I wondered how the FBI was able to definitively link the anthrax to Ivins. I was certainly not alone in my curiosity, and this morning’s article from the Associated Press, titled “DNA led FBI to anthrax researcher,” deals with exactly this issue.
As technology available at the time was only able to identify which strain the anthrax belonged to, the FBI employed top genome researchers from around the country to develop a new test that could identify the DNA of a particular anthrax strain. Last year, after spending at least $10 million (making this one of the FBI’s most expensive investigations in history), the FBI got the test it was looking for. Investigators were finally able to compare anthrax samples from the letters to those taken at government laboratories across the country. Doing so led them directly to Dr. Bruce Ivins because of ” the very specific characteristics in the DNA of the letters and what was in Bruce’s labs.” According to a scientist cited by the Associated Press, the strain used in the anthrax letters came from “…cultures [Dr. Ivins] was personally responsible for.”
So that’s the short answer. Check out the Associated Press story, published in today’s Baltimore Sun, for further details.
Source: “DNA led FBI to anthrax researcher,” The Baltimore Sun, August 4, 2008.