Tactical Applications of Microbial Forensics in Agricultural and Environmental Biosecurity

Tactical Applications of Microbial Forensics in Agricultural and Environmental Biosecurity

Jacqueline Fletcher, Joanna Davis, Stephen Goldsmith, Douglas Glen Luster, Randall Murch
Copyright: © 2022 |Pages: 39
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-7935-0.ch010
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The secure and continuous production of agricultural commodities and food security are key to U.S. national security. The introduction of foreign-origin or emerging animal, plant, and human diseases by intentional acts of espionage, terrorism, biological warfare, or criminal activity can lead to severe consequences for domestic and international agricultural markets, the economic security of the agricultural community, food safety and food security, and the credibility of responsible state and federal agencies. Early public, animal, plant health, law enforcement, and intelligence assessments and investigations of suspected or confirmed intentional threats are critical additions to existing interagency prevention, response, and management protocols. Forensic microbiology, a multidisciplinary science, is essential to the nation's readiness for responding to a potentially criminal, intentional, or otherwise nefarious incident in the agricultural sector (plant or animal), and of eventual supporting attribution and the prosecution of the perpetrators.
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1. Introduction

The secure and continuous production of agricultural commodities and the assurance of access to food products are key components of U.S. national security. The introduction of foreign-origin or emerging animal, plant, and human diseases can occur by natural incursion, accidental introduction, or intentional acts of terrorism, biological warfare, or criminal activity. These threat agents, which are mostly biological, can lead to severe consequences for domestic and international agricultural markets, the economic security of the agricultural community, food safety and food security, and the credibility of responsible state and federal agencies (FBI Weapons of Mass Destruction [WMD] Directorate, 2017; FEMA, 2019b).

Biological disease agents (exotic or non-endemic pathogens, pests, or toxins) affecting livestock, wildlife, crops, forests, and rangelands can impact human health in direct and indirect ways (Destoumieux-Garzon et al., 2018; Fletcher et al., 2006; Fletcher et al., 2020). Plant diseases can impact food security significantly for both humans and livestock and highly transmissible zoonotic diseases could have severe public health consequences. For example, commercial swine are commonly infected with swine influenza viruses that are usually different from seasonal human influenza viruses. While rare, influenza viruses can spread from pigs to people and from people to pigs. When an influenza virus that normally circulates in animals (but not people) is detected in a person, it is designated a “variant influenza virus.” As of September 2021, ten human infections with a novel influenza A virus, which has been prevalent in swine, have been reported in the United States. Only one of those infected had no known connection to swine (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2021; Program for Monitoring Emerging Diseases [ProMED], 2021).

Highly transmissible biological disease agents of either plants or animals can spread exponentially beyond the initial point-source of introduction. Characteristics to be considered when attempting to forecast rate of spread include natural or genetically manipulated pathogenicity, transmissibility or disease contagion, environmental impact on the pathogen life-cycle and efficiency of its dissemination, and agricultural production/marketing activities. (Federal Emergency Management Agency [FEMA], 2019b). These features and characteristics must be factored into threat assessments and mitigation plans.

Agricultural biosecurity is an issue of concern and attention for nations around the world, and efforts to mitigate threats to agricultural production are, in many respects, international in scope. Although this chapter focuses largely on systems, networks and approaches used in the United States, these elements of biosecurity should be considered within the larger context of the global agricultural infrastructure.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Budwood: Bud-bearing branch segments used for grafting onto another plant rootstock.

Threat Credibility Evaluation (TCE): Assessment, by the FBI and/or other law enforcement personnel, of available intelligence and/or case information to determine the credibility of a threat; to include technical feasibility, operational practicality, and adversarial intent.

Probative: Adjective describing something that demonstrates or provides proof.

Agroterrorism: The intentional release of biological agents, toxins, hazardous materials for the purpose of harming or killing animals or plants and the disruption of the agriculture infrastructure with the intent to intimidate or coerce a government or civilian population to further political or social objectives.

Xylem: Water-conducting tissues of a plant.

Perpetrator: An individual who carries out a crime or otherwise harmful or immoral action.

Volunteer Plant: A plant that germinates and grows without having been planted by humans, often from seed or vegetative plant parts remaining at the end of a season.

Court of Law: A hearing or trial presided over by a judge or magistrate in civil or criminal cases.

Trace Forward: Determination of the path on which a pathogen or pest will move in the future.

Control Zone: A potential crime zone or other area of quarantine or biosecurity focus in which investigators and operators must follow USDA or SDA disease control and decontamination requirements for entry and exit.

Delimiting Survey: A survey designed to identify the extent and range to which a pathogen or disease has spread, for purposes of disease management and containment.

Agrocrime: Any offense impacting animals and crops, the inputs used to raise them, or their products that is classified as a crime as per a country’s civil and penal codes.

Simple Sequence Repeat (SSR): Segments of DNA in which short motifs are repeated several to many times in tandem; SSR patterns can be used to characterize and discriminate among different populations of a microbial species.

Exonerate: Free from a legal accusation or charge and from attendant suspicion of blame or guilt.

Koch’s Postulates: Specific criteria that, when met, demonstrate that a microbe is the causal agent of a disease.

Chain of Custody: An unbroken, clearly documented, chronological record of the custody, transfer, storage, and disposition of physical or electronic evidence.

Rogueing: The removal of infected or infested plants from an agricultural setting for purposes of disease containment.

Intellectual Property: An invention or idea resulting from creativity to which one has legal rights and which may qualify for a patent, copyright, trademark or other protection.

Traceback: Determination of the source of a pathogen or pest.

Crime: An action or failure to act that is prosecutable by the state and punishable by law.

Endophyte: An organism, often a fungus or a bacterium, that resides within a plant for at least a portion of its life without causing apparent disease.

Pathosystem: A subset of an ecosystem in which the components include a host organism and an associated pathogen or parasite.

Necropsy: Postmortem dissection and examination of the body of an animal to determine cause of death.

Multi-Locus Sequence Typing: Characterization of microbial species through the DNA sequences of internal fragments of several different housekeeping genes.

Call Tree: A layered, hierarchical communications chain involving specific individuals, allowing for expeditious dissemination of information and coordination of next steps.

Set (Onion Set): A small, young onion bulb planted for the production of mature bulbs.

Daubert Criteria: In the United States, the rule of evidence with respect to the admissibility of court testimony by an expert witness.

Evidence: A body of facts, information, or material supporting a determination of whether a belief or proposition is true or valid.

Quarantine: The temporary isolation of a person, animal or plant that may be harmful to others due to exotic origin or exposure to a disease agent or pest.

Trigger (With Respect to Reporting a Suspicious Incident): The first signs or indicators of unusual behavior, activities, threats, or incidents that are recognized as abnormal or suspicious.

Trade Secret: A type of intellectual property consisting of information having actual or potential independent economic value, which may be protected to maintain its secrecy.

Forensic Microbiology: A scientific discipline in which evidence from a terrorist action or biocrime involving a microorganism or biological toxin is analyzed for use in criminal attribution.

Prosecution: The process of legal court action against a person charged with a crime.

Containment: Steps taken after the initial introduction of a pathogen or pest to limit the movement of the agent and the spread of disease.

Forensic Science: The use of scientific means to analyze physical crime evidence for assessment of the innocence or guilt of a specific suspect.

Tripwire: An observation, occurrence, or other factor that leads to a decision on the part of an observer to notify authorities.

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