Agents of Bioterrorism Explored in Summer Session Course

Posted: June 12, 2002 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Lynn Burke

When the call came out for Summer Session courses to address issues arising from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Paulette Royt, associate professor and chair of George Mason’s Biology Department, responded with a seminar/lecture called Agents of Bioterrorism. “I knew somebody had to teach this course, so being a pathogenic microbiologist, I thought I was the best person,” she says.

“Basically what I’m doing in the course is talking about those microorganisms that can be used for biological weapons,” says Royt. “Once I get the basic facts across about the organism, then we will talk more about the applied aspects–how is this organism useful as a bioterrorist agent? And since we’re reading about this subject in the newspapers and the magazines almost every day, it’s really of current interest.”

The course began with a short history of bioterrorism and a discussion of what properties a microorganism would need to make it an effective agent of bioterrorism. “We made up a list of seven or eight properties,” says Royt. “As we go through the course, we will think about those properties for each of the agents discussed and see that some of these agents would be of more concern than others.”

The class will look at the smallpox virus, the Ebola virus, anthrax, tularemia (a bacterial disease that can be contracted from animals, most often from wild rabbits), the plague, and botulism. Along with discussing the organisms and their virulence mechanisms, Royt says the class will discuss prevention.

Royt says that the students in the class are not the same type of students she would find in the typical graduate courses she teaches during the academic year. Along with seniors and graduate students in biology, others attending the class include people from the American Type Culture Collection, the Naval Research Laboratory, and Advanced Biosystems Inc.

The course’s final meeting will feature guest speaker Randall Good from the Institute of Defense Analyses, a research and development center that provides the U.S. government scientific and technical expertise regarding national security issues.

For more information on the Agents of Bioterrorism course, contact Royt at

Write to at