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Biological Terrorism

The Anthrax Scare of 2001


Kathleen A. Cornely
Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry
Providence College


In the weeks following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, anthrax-laced envelopes were mailed to individuals in government and the news media. Thousands were treated for exposure, and five people were killed. At the same time, scientists solved the last remaining pieces of the anthrax puzzle and the mechanism of infection of the anthrax toxin is now well understood. Developed for a second-semester biochemistry course, this case presents students with a wealth of biochemical, microbiological, and immunological material to analyze. It also explores important societal issues related to national preparedness against bioterrorist attacks, funding for biodefense research, and the use and misuse of antibiotic therapy.


  • Describe the anthrax toxin’s mechanism of infection.
  • Identify and list appropriate drug targets and describe how they work to combat the disease.
  • Describe the design of a polyvalent inhibitor and explain why the inhibitor is a good adjunct to antiobiotic therapy (students in biochemists’ group).
  • Describe the anthrax vaccine as it exists today and how to design an improved vaccine (students in immunologists’ group).
  • Describe which antibiotics are effective against anthrax (students in microbiologists’ group).
  • Discuss the issue of national vaccination and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of vaccinating the entire U.S. population against anthrax.
  • Describe how our behavior contributes to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
  • Describe the current debate concerning funding for bioterrorism vs. basic research.
  • Write a critical essay addressing a number of issues related to the threat of anthrax, anthrax vaccination, and biodefense research.


Bacillus anthraci; anthracis; inhalation anthrax; cutaneous anthrax; bacteria; bacterial disease; biological weapon; bioweapon; Cipro; antibiotic resistance; Sverdlovsk

Topical Areas

Ethics, Policy issues, Social issues

Educational Level

Undergraduate lower division, Undergraduate upper division



Type / Methods

Analysis (Issues), Discussion, Role-Play, Student Presentations



Subject Headings

Biochemistry  |   Microbiology  |   Public Health  |  

Date Posted


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