The U.S. National Research Council (NRC) concluded in 2002 that U.S. agriculture is vulnerable to attack and that the country has inadequate plans for dealing with agricultural bioterrorism. This article addresses the vulnerability of U.S. crops to attack from biological weapons by reviewing the costs and impact of plant diseases on crops, pointing out the difficulty in preventing deliberate introduction of pathogens and discovering new disease outbreaks quickly, and discussing why a plant pathogen might be chosen as a biological weapon. To put the threat into context, a brief historical review of anti-crop biological weapons programs is given. The argument is made that the country can become much better prepared to counter bioterrorism by developing a list of likely anti-crop threat agents, or categories of agents, that is based on a formal risk analysis; making structural changes to the plant protection system, such as expanding diagnostic laboratories, networking the laboratories in a national system, and educating first responders; and by increasing our understanding of the molecular biology and epidemiology of threat agents, which could lead to improved disease control, faster and more sensitive diagnostic methods, and predictions of disease invasion, persistence, and spread following pathogen introduction.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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