The ‘Biolabs’ Bushwa

In the last week, a conspiracy theory about U.S.-funded Ukrainian ‘biolabs’, first germinated by Q-Anon, has now been incorporated into Russian propaganda (boldface mine):

Russia’s early struggles to push disinformation and propaganda about Ukraine have picked up momentum in recent days, thanks to a variety of debunked conspiracy theories about biological research labs in Ukraine. Much of the false information is flourishing in Russian social media, far-right online spaces and U.S. conservative media, including Tucker Carlson’s show on Fox News.

The theories, which have been boosted by Russian and Chinese officials, come as U.S. officials warn that Russia could be preparing a chemical or biological weapons attack of its own in Ukraine.

Most of the conspiracy theories claim that the U.S. was developing and plotting to release a bioweapon or potentially another coronavirus from “biolabs”’ throughout Ukraine and that Russia invaded to take over the labs. Many of the theories implicate people who are often the targets of far-right conspiracy thinking — including Dr. Anthony Fauci and President Joe Biden — as being behind creating the weaponized diseases in the biolabs.

The Russian government then released ‘evidence‘ that the Ukrainian government was surpressing evidence of a bioweapons program.

What’s darkly hilarious about the BIOWEAPONZ LABZ crapola–sorry, I meant evidence–is an experienced bacteriologist would look at the presented list of bacterial isolates and realize these are readily available isolates often used for basic microbiology and clinical laboratory controls, not TEH KILLER DETH BACTERIAZ. Based on this translation, there is a spreadsheet of the strains considered to be ‘evidence’ of something nefarious (there are a couple of typos in the spreadsheet, such as “B. liheniformis” which should be “B. licheniformis” and “K. pneumoniae K-65 N 3534/51” which should be “K. pneumoniae K-65 N 3354/51”).

Some of these strains are standard lab strains that you might find in a teaching lab. Others are clearly controls for running diagnostic tests. For example, “P. aeruginosa ATCC N27853 (F-51)” can be ordered online, and you can even buy a ‘six-pack’ version, if you’re so inclined (DO NOT DRINK THE CULTURE. JUST DON’T).

These are basic controls for things like antibiotic resistance testing: using a strain that is known to be sensitive to antibiotics, you can ensure that the reagents and materials aren’t messed up when determining if isolates from sick people can be treated with various antibiotics. There are also a couple of Bacillus isolates, which, since they are spore-forming bacteria that are very hard to kill, are used to ensure sterilization equipment and procedures work. Others are pathogens whose toxin production has been neutralized or are recognized controls for assays (“C. diphtheriae tox+ NCTC 10648“). There also what appear to be clinical isolates–the kind of isolates any U.S. hospital lab might routinely collect.

Sure, you shouldn’t drink a culture of Salmonella typhimurium or inject Klebsiella into your veins (really, don’t do this–do I need to write this? Yes, sadly, I probably do), but these kinds of bacteria are standard for any applied/clinical lab. If this is a NEFARIOUS EVIL BIOLAB BOOGA! BOOGA!, then many/most U.S. universities, teaching hospitals, agricultural research centers, and public health labs are also BIOWARFARE LABZ (they’re not akshually).

So much stupid. Of course, explaining this won’t matter since the people making/receptive to these arguments are refractory to evidence, and they construct ‘hypotheses’ that can never be refuted, so I’m probably just shouting into the void about this.

It’s also hilarious that ‘biolabs’ is now a thing: where else are biologists going to do laboratory work? A Biohaberdashery?

It would be funny, were it not being used for such insidious purposes.

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